Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 4, Page 19
Summer 1994
Undergraduates gain skills and confidence in UD labs

     Senior Jeannine Ray of Wilmington, Del., may be studying turtles,
but there's nothing slow about the pace of her research. In the School
of Life and Health Sciences, she is investigating two types of
receptors in the turtle's vascular system. By allowing certain
hormones to bind with targeted tissue cells, the Type I and Type II
receptors control blood pressure and other critical functions. Little
is known about the Type II receptor, and Ray wants to learn more about
how this control mechanism evolved, and how it responds to various
     Such basic research might someday help scientists develop better
drugs to treat high blood pressure in humans. It's an ambitious
project for any investigator-especially, perhaps, for an undergraduate
like Ray, who launched her research two years ago, as a sophomore.
     Ray is one of roughly 400 students now participating in the
University's highly regarded Undergraduate Research Program, which
provides hands-on laboratory experience for highly motivated
candidates. Sponsored by the University Honors Program, undergraduate
research opportunities are open to all interested students. In
exchange for service on research teams supervised by faculty mentors,
most students receive between one and six academic credits per
semester. Some student researchers also earn grants or stipends,
explains coordinator Joan Bennett.
     "Through this program, students gain the fundamental skills and
insight they need to investigate genuine research questions," Bennett
says. "Hands-on research also builds self-confidence in students, and
prepares them for a career in an academic or industrial setting."
     A variety of scholarships support undergraduate research across
many disciplines-from chemistry to art history, from political science
to engineering. In 1994, for example, the University will award
science and engineering scholarships worth $2,500 each to about 50
enthusiastic undergraduates. Students also may apply for summer
incentive awards that range from $300-$500. Expenses associated with
student research can be covered by grants of up to $150 per semester,
or up to $250 if a senior thesis is involved. Last year, the program
awarded $18,167 in supply and expense grants and an additional
$163,300 in research scholarships to undergraduate researchers.
     As a Science Scholar in 1992, Ray completed an intensive 10-week
apprenticeship directed by Gregory A. Stephens, associate director of
the School of Life and Health Sciences. She also served as a research
assistant at the Medical School of Imperial College at the University
of London, as part of the UD's summer undergraduate research exchange
program, which receives support from Zeneca Pharmaceuticals of

Tackling real-world problems
     "When students complete their undergraduate research," Stephens
says, "their employers or graduate advisers don't want to know how
many facts they memorized in class. They need to know if their
students can deal with real-world problems."
     Eric Wetzel's research could help solve a problem common to the
defense, automotive and aerospace industries. A junior from Allentown,
Pa., Wetzel is developing better methods for fusion-bonding of
composite. Composites are materials that combine two or more
components to yield characteristics superior to any one of the
individual constituents. The project began in 1992, when Wetzel was
selected as an Engineering Scholar in the Center for Composite
     "Whenever composites are used in assemblies of any kind-from
aircraft to automobiles-bonding presents many challenges," Wetzel
says. "We're working with an innovative thermoplastic adhesive. Our
goal is to achieve a strong, durable bond without burning or degrading
the bonded composites."
     Each year, the Center for Composite Materials provides cross-
disciplinary research opportunities for about 30 undergraduates,
according to John W. Gillespie Jr., the center's associate director.
Sophomores focus on fundamental lab techniques and computer skills,
while more advanced students pursue independent projects.
     Wetzel is now developing numerical models and conducting
experiments using the University's patented welding system as a
testbed. In the future, he may work directly with an industrial
sponsor interested in developing the new adhesives.
     "It's very rewarding to watch students enter the program early in
their undergraduate careers," Gillespie says. "We see them grow and
mature to become independent researchers."
     After graduation, Wetzel intends to pursue a career as an applied
researcher, solving mechanical engineering problems. For Ray, the
future is still wide open. "I might combine a career in medicine with
clinical research," she says. "That way, I could apply what I've
learned in class and also take advantage of my research experience."
                                                    -Ginger Pinholster