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Undergraduate students present summer research projects

Madeline Buckley | Friday, October 10, 2008

Notre Dame undergraduates in the College of Science demonstrated how they transformed classroom learning into real world application with the presentation of their summer research projects in Jordan Hall Thursday.

The students showcased their projects for the College of Science Fall Symposium for Undergraduate Research.

The symposium gives students the chance to talk about the research they have done while at the same time giving other students an occasion to hear about the research opportunities available at Notre Dame, the College of Science’s Undergraduate research coordinator Dr. Dominic Chaloner said.

Chaloner estimated that about 40 percent of undergraduates in the College of Science participate in research.

“I have always been impressed at the cutting-edge level of research students are doing,” he said.

The students participated in research from all disciplines of the College of Science, including math, physics, chemistry, biology, Chaloner said.

Students utilized the career center and the College of Science faculty to find research opportunities, he said.

Chaloner said the University strongly encourages undergraduate students to do research.

“We are trying to create a profile of research among undergraduates,” he said. “This is not something that just graduate students are doing.”

While undergraduate research is particularly stressed for students hoping to attend medical school, Chaloner said research will help students gain skills for any career path.

“Doing research is going to help [students] be better in whatever they decide in terms of a career,” he said.

Skills like project management, time management, working with a team and gathering and synthesizing information are all formed through undergraduate research and these skills can help a student in any academic endeavor, Chaloner said.

While 40 percent of students doing research is high, Chaloner said the other 60 percent should be also doing research, or at least seriously considering it.

“I think all of them can be doing research and should be doing research,” he said.

Students learn the science they are studying in a classroom more effectively when they put it into action, Chaloner said.

“My mantra is that the best way to learn is to do, so the best way to learn about science is to do science,” he said. “So I think that a student that really wants to further their science education should have some level of scientific research in their curriculum.”

The undergraduate students who presented projects at the fair said the research experience was a valuable one.

Junior Will Culligan said he learned about how science takes place on a day-to-day basis through his research at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

He said he aided research in finding an anti-malarial drug. The group looked for compounds that stopped the enzyme that aids the reproduction of the Malaria virus.

“We found three compounds that did a good job of stopping the enzyme function,” Culligan said. “We are hoping that in the future, the compounds can be used as anti-malarial drugs.”

Senior Thomas Gruffi started researching anti-cancer compounds with his organic chemistry professor.

“I had an interest in what he was researching, so I asked to join his lab,” Gruffi said.

The group looked for natural compounds that have the biological activity to kill cancer cells, he said. When these compounds are found in nature, the research group tried to reproduce them synthetically in the lab, Gruffi said.

“I learned a lot of independence in terms of trying to work things out myself,” he said.

Gruffi said the research was different than research done in the classroom labs.

“There is an actual goal to it,” he said. “You can have an actual affect on people’s lives.”

Junior Dan Reid participated in research in the “middle of nowhere” in Wisconsin through a Notre Dame summer research program. Reid said he studied turtle behavior in the afternoons while taking classes in the mornings.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I got some credits out of it and I got to do my own experiment.”