53 Eurekas

Physics majors Emily Whitaker and Sean Jones, both of the class of 2017, earned honors for their interactive presentation on a solar air-heater-enhanced biogas digester for the College Farm.

Physics majors Emily Whitaker '17 and Sean Jones '17 earned honors for their interactive presentation on a biogas digester paired with a solar air heater for the College Farm. Photo by Carl Socolow ’77.

Students present original research to diverse audience at Science Student Research Symposium

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Student-researchers have been working hard in the lab and the field throughout the year, conducting original research across the spectrum of scientific inquiry. After months of careful data-gathering and analysis, they're ready to announce what they’ve learned.

Their work sets the stage for the Science Student Research Symposium. Held every spring, the symposium corrals students who are studying biologybiochemistry & molecular biologychemistrycomputer scienceearth sciencesenvironmental studies & environmental sciencemathematics, neurosciencephysics & astronomy and psychology in the Rector Science Complex Atrium, where they present recent or ongoing work to the entire campus community.

“We have a lot of students who are doing really great science, on and off campus, but they don’t really get much of a chance to see what students in other science disciplines are doing,” said Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jason Gavenonis, noting that each science department holds its own spring symposium in the weeks leading up to the all-science event. “So this is a great opportunity for people to see what’s going on all across the college community.”

This year's symposium brought together 53 students or student research teams, each with posters to display their findings. The challenge: To explain their highly technical work to students, faculty and staff with varied backgrounds and areas of expertise.  

Diatoms and digesters

Sydney Diamond ’16 (environmental studies) earned an award for her presentation on fieldwork she conducted on a high-altitude lake in southern Peru under the mentorship of Kristin Strock, assistant professor of environmental studies. Diamond posited that the shifting of in-lake diatom communities were caused by an increase of temperature and wind speed in the region over time—a measurable effect of climate change.

"I loved presenting at the symposium because it gave me a chance to answer some really interesting questions," Diamond said, adding that the event also helped prepare her to present that material at a conference for the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, held in New Mexico this coming June. 

Physics majors Emily Whitaker '17 and Sean Jones '17 earned honors for their interactive presentation on a biogas digester paired with a solar air heater for the College Farm. The first of its kind, the enhanced digester is being built under the direction of Professor of Physics Hans Pfister and Assistant Farm Manager Matt Steiman to increase year-round production of biogas at minimal energy cost. A pilot-scale biogas digester was installed at the farm last year.

"Lab work is so much fun, but communicating science is key, and it was so rewarding to show people what we have accomplished and what we are planning on doing," said Whitaker, who also presented the result of her summer 2015 research, using soil-water content sensors to measure lake-ice thickness in Lake Mendota, Wisconsin; that work was funded through the National Science Foundation and is being published in Limnology and Oceanography: Methods. "It was also great hearing feedback from people on ways to improve the system or how to plan future work, which is one of the most important aspects of science interaction with the public."

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Published April 21, 2016