Research on Research Projects Encourage Faculty-Student Partnerships

Article by Sally Hritz
Originally published in a different format

The subject matter of this summer's Research on Research projects run the gamut from Amish settlements and Italian immigrants to supermaps and Polar Earth networks.

Boyan Alexandrov, the SuperMap project

They are the results of unique partnerships between faculty and undergraduate students who worked together over the summer to complete ePortfolios, funded by TELR grants and facilitated by Digital Union resources. Covering disciplines from history and sociology to mechanical engineering and geology, the projects were on exhibit at the fourth annual showcase in the Digital Union in late August. About 75 attendees came for the opportunity to meet with the faculty-student teams and be inspired by the fruits of their efforts.

Faculty mentors who participate gain a new body of research for their own professional purposes. The undergraduates students who partner with them gain new multimedia and research skills as they complete an ePortfolio that is sure to look good on their resumes, and even earn a stipend.

Digital Union Director Victoria Getis, who has coordinated the grants since the beginning, says she enjoys interacting with the teams and is impressed with the resulting body of work. She notes that the student members over the years have received outside honors for their work, a few have presented their research at conferences, and some have been swayed to change their career paths after the exposure to new disciplines.

Briefly, the 2007 projects and teams are:

An Immigrant's Odyssey in America
Bartolomeo Vanzetti arrived at Ellis Island to join 20 million immigrants who came to the U.S. in the early days of the twentieth century. When he died a poor man after 19 years in America, he had no job, no family, no money, and yet, a quarter million people attended his funeral.
- Professor Kevin Boyle (History) and Adam Heider (History and Political Science)

Microbial Fuel Cell Learning Center
Microbial fuel cells harness bioelectrochemical reactions in microorganisms. This project will help 6th to 12th graders understand alternative energy and sustainability in agricultural systems and how traditional waste byproducts can be used for locally renewable energy.
- Professor Ann Christy (Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering) and Nikki Skrinak (Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering)

Amish Settlements
Amish groups have existed in America since the early 1700s, and since 1990 the number of settlements has doubled–an incredible rate of growth. The team plotted all Amish settlements by time period, an optimum method to recognize trends.
- Professor Joseph Donnermeyer (Rural Sociology), Professor Elizabeth Cooksey (Sociology), and Emily Ellis (Sociology and Geography)

Fat Facts
Consumers are confronted with myriad confusing labels and claims on food products. The Fat Facts web site bridges the information gap by educating consumers, researchers, and policy makers on recent changes in fat labeling and their implications.
- Professor Neal Hooker (Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics), Professor Yael Vodovotz (Food Science and Technology), and Debra Van Camp (Food Science and Technology)

SuperMap is a completely new method of sharing knowledge about disease, by creating a virtual global view of the spread of strains of a pathogen. The resultant maps enable research and public health teams to prepare critical data as an epidemic happens, when they can be used to allocate and redirect disease surveillance resources.
- Professor Daniel Jaines (Bioinformatics) and Boyan Alexandrov (Biomedical Science)

Assistive Walking Device
This project sought to design a more efficient walking device for a specific child with cerebral palsy by analyzing gait, current assistive walking devices, and the child’s daily activities.
- Professor Robert Siston (Mechanical Engineering) and Rebecca Routson (Mechanical Engineering)

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells
Solid oxide fuel cells can produce cleaner electricity and help reduce air pollution, but sealants used in the process can break down and lead to fuel cell failure. This project researched seal materials that will perform best during the heating, holding, and cooling of ceramic and metal SOFC parts.
- Professor Mark Walter (Mechanical Engineering) and Timothy Gatts (Mechanical Engineering)

Protein Visualization
It is widely believed that a protein's functionality is to a large extent decided by its three-dimensional structure. Color images of proteins accentuating protrusions and cavities can help to display geometric and various biochemical properties of input molecules.
- Professor Yusu Wang (Computer Science and Engineering), Deepak Bal (Computer and Information Science), and Angelo Nasca (Mathematics)

Polar Earth Observing Network
This project looked for optimal GPS and seismometer sites in West Antarctica for the Polar Earth Observing Network (POLENET) project, which studies surface ice sheets and processes in the solid Earth below.
- Professor Terry Wilson (Geological Sciences), Carol Landis (Byrd Polar Research Center), and James Stutz (Geological Science)

To learn more about the R2 program, how to participate, and to view all of the multimedia portfolios for projects from current and past years, visit the web site.

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