Six Georgia College students and one faculty member were selected for Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) with stipends through the National Science Foundation (NSF).
This summer, they’ll participate in research for biology, mathematics, chemistry and physics at universities across the United States. A seventh student received a grant to conduct statistical analysis on campus with variables that affect grades.
“That our students are selected for these REU experiences speaks very well for Georgia College and for the way we’re able to engender in our students a love of learning and a passion for exploration,” said Dr. Robert Blumenthal, chair of mathematics.
REUs last about two months and give students opportunities to learn good work ethics and research techniques at other universities. They get a chance to work with other undergraduate, graduate and post-doctorate students. They also network, making professional contacts with faculty.
“These experiences are what a young researcher needs to learn more about scientific careers and the modern research culture,” said Dr. Indiren Pillay, chair of biological and environmental sciences. “We at Georgia College are of course very proud when our students are accepted into these programs, because it is a validation of what we offer as a strong, liberal arts institution.”
Stories REU students bring back to campus will inspire others to apply, said Assistant Professor of physics Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge. He’ll participate in research at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, with junior physics major Nowsherwan Sultan of Pakistan.
This team relationship makes their REU experience unique. Alongside Mahabaduge, Sultan will explore “polarization and spin phenomena in nanoferroic structures.” He hopes to find “magnetic memory” applications for information processing and storage.
“I am really excited and grateful to get this opportunity,” Sultan said. “The main goal of my college experience was to gain hands-on experience in my field of study. I believe this is my first step toward that.”
“This will be a great learning experience,” he said, “and will give me a chance to apply knowledge I’ve gained from the classroom to solve real-world problems.”
Senior biology major Shea Morris of Byron received a REU at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Morris was accepted into other programs but chose Texas, because of its reputation for public research. The large university will allow her to experience a different environment, while exploring “bioluminescence imaging of cytomegalovirus in guinea pigs.”
At Georgia College, Morris works on bacteriophage – a virus that attacks bacteria. This summer, she expects to broaden her research-lab skills by working with animal viruses and experimenting on “novel vaccine development.”
“I am so thrilled. Few people get accepted into programs as competitive as these, and I am extremely excited to have the opportunity. It speaks highly of my work, as well as my mentors at Georgia College,” said Morris, who appreciates the help and direction she got from Pillay.
Getting a REU at a large research school, like Texas A&M, is an endorsement of Morris’ future career in biological research, Pillay said.
Senior chemistry major Paul Espinosa of Lawrenceville received a REU at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Espinosa will do biochemical research in medicine, a topic he’s especially interested in. The focus will be on “degradation of choline acetyltransferase” and that enzyme’s relationship to motor-activity disorders.
“I expect to screen several compounds that can assist in therapeutic strategy for this disorder,” Espinosa said. “I believe this research will help me discover what field of chemistry I wish to continue studying.”
At Georgia College, Espinosa experimented on drugs that can permeate the “blood-brain barrier.” He hopes the additional REU experience will help him decide whether to pursue more research in graduate school.
Senior physics, pre-med major Nicolas Merino of Marietta received a REU at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He’ll be involved in material sciences and nanotechnology – the manipulation of atoms and molecules on a super-small scale.
As a pre-med student, Merino said this subject is something he most enjoys learning about. He’ll focus on “polymer chemistry, bioanotechnology and how stimuli-responsive materials can be used for improved drug delivery.”
“It’s humbling, and I hope to take a lot of experience and knowledge away from this opportunity,” he said. “I expect to broaden my horizons and deepen my understanding of the union between physics, chemistry and biology.”
“I hope this opportunity makes me a better candidate for medical school,” Marino added, “so I can one day become a doctor.
Junior Cain Gantt of Johns Creek is double majoring in mathematics and physics with a minor in computer science. He received a REU at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The REU is part of the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences (JICS), so Gantt will be working with “supercomputer clusters.”
He was offered another REU at the University of Virginia but chose Tennessee, because of the subject matter and chance to work with JICS. Eight students from Hong Kong will join 10 Americans on this project.
“I’m really excited,” Gantt said. “I’m looking forward to tackling some difficult problems alongside a host of other brilliant minds. I hope to be able to apply this knowledge of program design to classwork, research and personal endeavors in my future.”
Senior mathematics major Margo Rothstein of Athens received a REU at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. She’ll study statistical analysis of lake sediment from the Peruvian Andes, for a historical perspective of fires there. Research could show size differences in fossils and charcoal fragments throughout history.
This is the first research opportunity Rothstein’s been involved in. She hopes it’ll help her discover an interest for working with natural substances.
“I feel very lucky, grateful and anxious,” Rothstein said. “This opportunity is particularly interesting to me, because it combines a mathematical approach to biological study. I expect to learn how to apply mathematical understanding to real scientific research.”
Senior mathematics major Jasmine Gray of Milledgeville received a $2,500 grant from Georgia College’s MURACE (Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors). She’ll do data analysis with Dr. Jebessa Mijena, assistant professor of mathematics, on campus this summer.
Gray’s using statistical and “machine learning algorithms,” hoping to show how different factors affect student performance, like size and length of a class. She believes the biggest variable will depend on what semester a course is taken and time of day.
“From this experience, I expect to gain a wealth in understanding how all things play a role in a student success – from the smallest things, such as which semester they take the course, to more specific things, like who taught the course,” Gray said. “This will give me a sense of accomplishment, knowing I can succeed in all and anything I put my mind to.”