Summer Research Presentations Astound Attendees

Student stands in front of her summer research project.Parents and families filled the Brousseau Atrium as 24 students presented their summer research science projects. Each year, the School of Science (SOS) conducts a scholarly research competition where high-achieving students can select a faculty mentor and apply for funding to conduct summer research in their field of interest. Each student prepares a project proposal, and department chairs and program directors from SOS choose the most meritorious projects for funding. This marks the 33rd year of the highly coveted program.

With faculty guidance, students worked over the summer on interesting and varying projects. Some worked with lasers and high-tech devices, and others dug into the soil to study the habits of subterranean creatures and microorganisms. Other students created projects that challenge current day thinking and scientific outcomes.

The 2018 Summer Research Program marked the second year that Maya Szafraniec ’19 participated. “It’s interesting because my two years were so different. No one did the same projects as last year, and the creativity is inspiring,” said Szafraniec. She studied ozone pollution during the 2017 program, and this year, with support from her faculty guide, Professor Rebecca Jabbour, Szafraniec studied the effects of altitude on the shape of gorilla shoulder blades. “The two topics seemed so different at first glance,” she said. “I studied the effects of altitude both years, and I learned how to use large datasets and coding to examine different problems over my two experiences.”

Tobin Shea ’20, who worked with Professor Zuleikha Kurji, called his experience in the program incredible. Shea studied properties of a photo-responsive liquid crystal elastomer—a type of material that changes shape when exposed to light. Much of Shea’s summer was spent building and 3D printing a universal testing machine for his elastomer, which potentially could have cost $30,000. With ingenuity and creativity, however, Shea designed and built the machine himself with funding from the program. “I learned so much, and I put my lab skills into practice doing something that matters,” Shea said.

The Summer Research Program extends beyond biology and chemistry projects. Katherine Anderson ’19 is a psychology major who worked with Professor Mark Barajas to study how mental health professionals approach post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment in response to recent American Psychological Association guidelines. Anderson conducted a qualitative study, crafting 15 interview questions to help her analyze her participants’ state of being. “It was a very rewarding process,” Anderson said. “This project gave me insight into the field I’m very interested in—clinical psychology. It was an in-depth, fully funded study, and it’s rare for undergraduates to receive that opportunity.”

The poster session closed with an awards ceremony led by Chemistry Department Professor Mark Lingwood. The Fletcher Jones Award, judged by Professor Michael Marchetti, was awarded to James Morris ’19 for demonstrating excellent use of the scientific method in his research on newt ecology. Ariana Hofelmann ’21 won the prestigious Joseph P. McKenna award, judged by a panel of four professors and two students from SOS, for her research on double-star systems and exoplanets. Maya Szafraniec ’19 was first runner-up for her research on gorilla shoulder blade anatomy, and Tobin Shea ’20 was second runner up for his study on photo-responsive elastomers. Congratulations to all of the 2018 Summer Research Program award winners and participants.