Undergraduate Research Conference 2002
Undergraduate Research Conference 2002
Undergraduate life can be a hectic existence defined by exams, class projects, homework and employment, with the real-world applications of academics sometimes lost in the bustle of university life.
However, hundreds of undergraduate students will connect real life to their academic pursuits when they present their undergraduate research projects at the Undergraduate Research Conference 2002 May 2-4 in Durham and Manchester.
"Undergraduate research begins with a real question that requires a real answer. Finding that answer can make a student into a good citizen, and underscore in a young life what education is really for," says Georgeann Murphy, coordinator of the International Research Opportunities Program (IROP).
In its third year, the conference has grown steadily since 2000 and has become an annual spring tradition. Last year, more than 200 students presented their scholarly and artistic achievements.
Julie Williams, conference coordinator, estimates between 150 and 200 students will participate in this year's event, themed "Discovery Will Change Your Life." The conference is open to the public. Honors students and their parents, and groups of guidance counselors and teachers from across the state have been invited.
The conference gives students participating in UNH's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and IROP an opportunity to showcase their research. Both programs provide guidance and funding for students who want to work on research projects. The final step of the research project is the presentation of results.
In pursuing research, students learn independence and responsibility, Murphy says, and education becomes a practical business, not an academic exercise.
"Students connect to the intellectual community in ways even an inspiring class or professor cannot alone ensure, largely because the research asks so much of the student. In return, students do extraordinary things," she says. "When challenged to perform as smart, contributing members of society, most do just that. That project -- getting students connected with the real world of ideas that serve others -- is thrilling for all involved."
Undergraduate research touches people far from UNH. In April, two of last summer's IROP students will present their research results -- about organ donation in Spain and the treatment of malaria in Tanzania -- at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at the University of Wisconsin. That's just one stop for senior Molly Melvin, who joins a select group of 64 college juniors and seniors April 18 when she presents her research, "Organ Procurement and Allocation in International Perspective," on Capitol Hill.
"Students have conducted research at sites from Wood's Hole on Cape Cod to the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, from the waters off Florida's coast to an island off the coast of Alaska," says Donna Brown, director of undergraduate research. "And through IROP, students have pursued their research interests to every continent, where they also experience the benefits of immersing themselves in a foreign culture and meeting the challenges of conducting research at a foreign site and often in a foreign language."
Yet students aren't the only ones who benefit from the research programs. Faculty mentors are crucial to the process, helping students understand how they became experts in their fields and sharing the excitement of intellectual exploration, discovery and primary research, Brown says.
Cliff Brown, associate professor of sociology and an URC steering committee member, has mentored several undergraduate research students.
"I think it's important for faculty to help students see how research and work in the classroom can have importance outside the UNH community. By facilitating student research, faculty help students start to make those connections," he says. "On a college campus, it's easy to think about the work we do as very abstract, but it does have very real, concrete connections to the world."
Brown says his mentoring experience has been rewarding personally and professionally. "For sociology students, it's great for me to see students excited about a discipline that I've been excited about for a long time," he says.
Mentoring students who are not sociology majors allows Brown, whose research areas are race and ethnic relations, and environmental sociology, to be exposed to different ideas, he says. Last semester, Brown teamed up with honors music performance student Rebecca Griffin on her research project, "Slavery in Sudan: History, Causes, and the New Abolitionist Movement."
After volunteering at a Boston antislavery organization, Griffin found the issue so compelling that she made it the topic of her honors thesis. Brown's work with Griffin allowed him to learn about a new topic and work with an ambitious undergraduate student with a dual music/Italian major and a minor in race, culture, power and political science. Griffin will present her project at this year's conference.
"That's the nice thing about doing this. It tends to bring faculty together with the very best students," he says.
Scott Berube, a senior honors student in accounting at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics, is on his way to a position with one of the Big Five accounting firms after graduation in May, and he credits UNH for giving him "exactly the experience" he was looking for.
While a student here, Berube discovered not only his accounting forte, but the satisfaction of crunching a different kind of number, as well -- research data. For his honors thesis, Berube collected and analyzed data which also extended a study by his mentor, Afshad Irani, assistant professor of accounting. Irani's larger investigation was designed to determine the impact of an October 2000 Securities and Exchange Commission ruling on Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD). The main question was whether the rule leveled the playing field among investors or if it had a chilling effect on the flow of corporate information and analysts' access to it.
Berube's research experience -- hours of searching the literature, developing hypotheses and operational definitions, months of data crunching -- gave him a deeper knowledge of theory and appreciation for the spirit of inquiry, fostered by his mentor. "I really enjoyed working with Professor Irani," Berube says. "He played devil's advocate with all my questions and helped me determine the possible alternative solutions. I really learned from the fact that some of my hypotheses were not supported. Research is a tool to basically open up your mind to the various things that are possible, to the inner workings. That's what I found the most interesting about it."
Using several measures to track analyst performance and other variables, Irani and Berube did find differences between the pre- and post Reg FD period. Berube juggled thousands of data points -- 600 to 3,000 observations per quarter from 1996 through 2001. According to Irani, "Scott's thesis takes my work further in a couple of ways. First, in addition to the two variables that I studied, Scott looked at forecast accuracy and whether that was affected by the low information quantity/quality. Second, he conditions the effect of Reg FD on industry informativeness."
Berube, a Nashua native and recent winner of the university's John C. McConnell Scholarship, also completed an internship at Great North Property Management and has tutored fellow Whittemore School students in business statistics and accounting. Berube says he is "very glad" that he chose UNH. "I've been able to accomplish everything I've set out to do," he notes. "I've had a lot of support at the Whittemore School, and Professor Irani has been really great."
Irani comments, "I know that Scott has enjoyed working on this project. I remember him being very excited when we were about to run our tests, and maybe a little less excited when our results did not turn out to be as strong as we anticipated. He has used his accounting and statistics knowledge in executing this study and I think he has a better feel of how concepts he learned in class are applied to study the real world."
Thirty years ago scientists first learned that zinc was essential for a healthy body. Taken in through diet -- the best food sources being meat and dairy -- all cells need it to perform properly. Too little, or too much, can lead to health problems like a lowered immune system, poor growth and learning disabilities.
Since its discovery, scientists have been trying to find the pathway by which this mineral gets into cells. They haven't yet found the answer, but researchers like Dennis Bobilya, UNH associate professor of animal and nutritional sciences, are determined to do so.
"Until we know how zinc gets into cells, we can't understand why it's important," says Bobilya. "We know we need zinc because if you restrict it, pathology and illness result. By better understanding the cellular metabolism for zinc, nutritionists can with higher confidence make recommendations of how much people should include in their diets."
In his search for an answer, Bobilya enlisted the help of undergraduate student Heather Steinke. With support from UROP and SURF, she has spent three years delving deeper into the problem, this year creating her own research project and presenting her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston.
"Scientists know how most other nutrients get into cells, but zinc has been difficult," says Steinke. "One hypothesis is endocytosis, and that's what I focused my research project on."
In endocytosis, the cell engulfs a drop of extracellular fluid. It does this by folding inward a portion of its plasma membrane. The pouch that results is pinched off from the plasma membrane forming a membrane-enclosed bubble.
In her experiment Steinke exposed mammalian cells to several drugs that inhibit endocytosis to see how zinc uptake would be affected.
"I found that endocytosis was one of the mechanisms, but probably not the only one," she says. "For one inhibitor there was a 30 percent difference, for another there was a 15 percent difference."
Having the opportunity to present her findings among scientists at the AAAS national meeting was an "unbelievable" opportunity and one that allowed her to synthesize her educational experience and make an original contribution to science.
"To take on a research project like this involves a different way of thinking -- you look at the broader picture, but then focus in on one aspect," says Steinke. "I took what I learned in the classroom and applied it independently. You get to see how science happens, instead of being told how it happens."
Steinke, who is headed for medical school after she graduates, says one of the reasons she chose to attend UNH was because of the opportunity undergraduates have to work with faculty on research projects.
Bobilya says it is why he chose UNH, as well.
Rocks tell great stories to those trained to read their verse. Within their folds and fractures are tales of collisional geological processes responsible for creating great structures like the Himalayas or New Hampshire's White Mountains millions of years ago.
Jack Loveless is a geology major and, under the tutelage of UNH Professor Wally Bothner, is learning to tell Earth's narrative.
"My research involves examining rocks for evidence of fault formation," Loveless explains, fingering a series of folds in a fist-sized sample. "A fault is a major rock fracture caused by two units moving against each other. The Earth's crust is brittle, so you'll see a series of fractures in faulted rocks at the surface. As you get deeper, the temperature increases and the rock becomes more pliable, creating waves and folds."
Loveless, of Northampton, Mass., is describing a sample from his research site in an area of New Hampshire called the Epping quadrangle, a 50-square-mile section of terrain. Within this region is rock unit called the Calef Member of the Eliot Formation which is thought to be fault bounded. Loveless brings back samples of rock from the field and examines thin sections under the microscope to see if there is increased deformation -- stress and strain -- concentrated on the fault. By characterizing the rock, the fault can be more accurately mapped.
"There's a major fault that goes all the way up through Maine called the Norumbega System," says Loveless. "There are smaller faults that diverge off this system like streams off a river. We're trying to find out if the Calef Member is part of that larger system. Confirming this would be a major contribution to the understanding of New England geology."
According to Loveless, Bothner has proposed that the Calef Fault exists because rocks found here are unusual for the area. They indicate that a structural event happened that forced hardened sediment from below the ground to rise to the surface.
The first student to receive funding from the Karen L. Harrower Undergraduate Research Fund, Loveless, who is headed to graduate school at Cornell University, says he originally planned on studying physics, but was drawn to geology because he likes being outdoors. Incidentally, Bothner cited the same reason in an interview years ago.
"I remember taking a course my sophomore year where we spent eight hours per week in the field," says Loveless. "We went out to Adams Point to map the area. I loved looking at the folds in the rocks and trying to figure out what they meant. From that day I became hooked on structural geology.
"I talk to friends at other schools and I can tell you that UNH offers a unique experience -- no one spends as much time in the field as we do. To make a map from scratch, to come up with a finished project that tells a story about the rocks, about that area, that's an unbelievable experience."
What started with a curious student in an epidemiology class and a professor with far-reaching contacts has turned into a summer-long research appointment at The Chinese University of Hong Kong for an undergraduate project comparing mental health in Hong Kong and the United States.
Born in Shanghai, Katy Zhang spent her early years in Hong Kong and then moved to New York. Her interest in self-destructive behavior grew from an epidemiology class she took with Jeffrey Salloway, professor of health management and policy at UNH and Zhang's faculty advisor. After she wrote a term paper on the issue that he described as "simply dazzling," they discussed whether she should do original research.
When Zhang, a junior, expressed interest, Salloway e-mailed one of his colleagues. He and Cheung Yuet-Wah, professor of sociology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, did their post doctoral work together at Tufts Medical School under Peter K. New, a man Salloway says"trained an entire generation of social epidemiologists."
Cheung Yuet-Wah immediately agreed to be Zhang's mentor in Hong Kong, and was so enthusiastic that he gave her a research appointment in the department of psychiatry at the university for the summer. She will have access to archival data, conduct in-depth interviews with psychiatrists, and visit treatment institutions. Using all of that information, she will come up with rates of self-destructive behavior in Hong Kong, compare it to the U.S., and begin to explore whether self-destructive behavior is biological or sociocultural.
"Katy Zhang is doing doctoral dissertation level work," says Salloway. "My belief is that this is just the beginning of a research career. I really believe she will become one of the world's experts on mental illness in cross cultural perspective and it will be because UNH has dug into its own pockets. UNH is one of only two universities in the country that funds international research projects for undergraduates."
Salloway has advised several students in international undergraduate research projects. "It's a thrill to work with students like Katy," he says. "When you get old and ask yourself 'what have I done,' you think of the Katy Zhang's and think 'wow, wasn't that great.' It keeps me fresh, alert and in touch with a new literature. To watch a student grow like that is so fulfilling. UNH is the biggest bargain in American higher education."
Kurk Dorsey had just been talking with the director of UROP about how to get more liberal arts students to apply to the program when he realized he could play a role.
For the first time, he taught a class on modern American environmental history. "Over the course of the semester, I got to know all of the 17 students in the class as they debated some of the most important aspects of American uses and visions of nature," says Dorsey, an associate professor of history. "By the time the semester had ended, I had concluded that one sophomore, Andrew Case, was one of the brightest, most original students whom I had met."
They were a perfect match, Dorsey thought, and Case agreed. He continued his study of environmental history with an independent readings course, and that led to a senior thesis in the field.
With Dorsey's support and encouragement as a faculty adviser, Case was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) to do the research for his thesis, "Threading a Needle Through the Notch: An Environmental History of Construction of Interstate 93 in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire." The stipend allowed him to spend nine weeks in archives around the state, focused on his research and not trying to hold down a summer job, too.
"I would have endeavored to complete this project even without funding from SURF," Case says, "but I can say with confidence that without the fellowship, the depth and complexity of my work would have been significantly compromised."
Case describes the process as "the most demanding and rewarding experience of my undergraduate career," but it also doesn't hurt that Dorsey believes Case has the start of a doctoral dissertation if he chooses graduate school.
"These kinds of programs are indispensable," Dorsey stresses. "Andrew has not only distinguished himself in any pool of graduate applicants, but now he has a professor who can really convince someone he's able to do good work."
Case adds that "research in the liberal arts differs greatly from the hard sciences, but that doesn't make it any less challenging or less significant. Funding in the liberal arts is perennially scarce, which makes it that much more important for liberal arts students to capatilize on this opporunity."
In addition to presenting his conclusions at UNH's Undergraduate Research Conference, Case will travel to Wisconsin the week before to present at the national conference in undergraduate research.
All students will present their work during scheduled university-wide sessions at the Manchester campus Thursday, May 2, and in Durham May 3, between 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. in the MUB. The following departments, programs, or schools/colleges will sponsor research presentation sessions Friday afternoon, May 3. COLSA holds its annual research conference Saturday, May 4. For more information, call Julie Williams at 862-1997 or visit the website, www.unh.edu/urc/.
WSBE Paul J. Holloway Jr. Prize Business Plan Competition
SHHS Grimes Award Competition
English Department Undergraduate Honors Conference
Sociology Department Student Presentations
Psychology Dept's Haslerud Undergrad Research Conference
Electrical Engineering Senior Project Presentations
Civil and Environmental Engineering Department
IROP - UROP - SURF - Honors - McNair Faire
Mechanical Engineering Project Presentations
COLSA Undergraduate Research Conference (Sat., May 4)