Students present their findings at summer symposium
Scott Strobel of Yale University discusses "The Search for Microbiological and Chemical Diversity in the Rainforest."
In Wolf Hall auditorium, Scott Strobel talks about his research experiences in Ecuador and Peru and the involvement of his students.
UD junior Kevin Crum
UD senior Steven Foltz
Jeneice Hamilton of Lincoln University
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3:15 p.m., Aug. 14, 2009----Wall-to-wall guests filed into the hallways of McKinly Laboratory on Wednesday, Aug. 12, to hear and see oral and poster presentations by the 181 students participating in this year's Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium.

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Harold White, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the University of Delaware's Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education Program, said, “This is the largest number we have had in nine years, by a significant amount. A large part of that increase is attributed to the greater participation of students from the College of Engineering.”

The symposium gives undergraduates who've spent the summer pursuing independent research projects in the sciences, mathematics and engineering a chance to hone their presentation skills and showcase their work.

To open the symposium, Scott Strobel, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor and a professor of biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University, gave a lecture on “The Search for Microbiological and Chemical Diversity in the Rainforest.”

In the lecture, which took place in Wolf Hall auditorium, Strobel spoke of his experiences studying in Ecuador and Peru, where he takes students to help them gain ownership of their science projects, studying biological diversity.

“I wanted to create a situation where a group of students could have complete ownership over a project,” Strobel said.

He stressed to the symposium participants that ownership over a scientific project is important because, “you guys all live in a world where there are a lot of expectations about what science is going to deliver to you, to deliver to us, the problems that science is going to solve. So you have to decide what problem it is that you care so passionately about and are so interested in and is so important that it's going to consume your life and your attention and your energy for some number of years.”

Students presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium displayed ownership of their projects, and months of hard work paid off with each student presenting on their research findings.

“By preparing a poster about their research, students have an opportunity to reflect on what they have done, put it in perspective, and gain valuable experience in communicating their work to others,” White said.

Among the undergraduate students involved in the symposium, Kevin Crum, a UD junior in the Honors Program studying in the area of marine science, spent most of the summer studying the effects of shoreline hardening on nearby fish populations.

“We picked a site in the University of Delaware boat basin down in Lewes," Crum said, "and we seined, which is just a big net, for about 10 meters and then we counted and measured the fish that we caught and did some diversity indexes.”

Crum studied five different areas in the one site and found that while some areas had a high fish population, they had a low level of diversity, and other areas had a low level of fish population but a high level of diversity.

Steven Foltz, a UD senior in the Honors Program majoring in biochemistry, did his research on a genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, also known as SMA.

"I did research up at the Children's Hospital because this is a disease that kills people in childhood, a lot of the time, depending on the severity," Foltz said. "My particular project was to probe for abnormal protein expression in cells because our disease is characterized by degeneration of motor neurons in the spine, so I took samples of differentiated motor neurons and then basically probed them for protein expression.”

In addition to UD students, the symposium also included students from Delaware State University, Lincoln University, Delaware Technical and Community College and Wesley College among others.

One student from Lincoln University, Jeneice Hamilton, did her research on the anti-cancer properties of five different kinds of spices. Hamilton, who is from Jamaica, said that she chose to do research on the herbs because, “in Jamaica, they do use herbs a lot.”

Eight students presented their research as talks in a competition, which was sponsored by the UD Chapter of Sigma Xi. The winners received $100, $50 and $25 gift certificates presented to them by Carl Schmidt, chapter president and associate professor of animal and food sciences at UD. First place went to Michael Napolitano, a senior biochemistry major; second place went to Rebecca Brown, a senior biological sciences major; and third place went to Sharon Weaver, a junior chemical engineering major.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium is cosponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Undergraduate Science Education Program, the University of Delaware Chapter of Sigma Xi, the College of Arts and Sciences, the National Institutes of Health IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Program, the Delaware Biotechnology Institute and Sigma Xi.

Participating students were supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education Program, the University of Delaware Undergraduate Research Program, the National Institutes of Health IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Program, Delaware Biotechnology Institute, the National Institutes of Health Bridges Program, NIH Bridges Program, The National Science Foundation (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, (EPSCoR) Beckman Scholars Program, Ronald McNair Scholars Program, Charles Peter White Fellowships, DoD Program and Chemistry Alumni Fellowships.

Story by Adam Thomas
Photos by Ambre Alexander