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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Undergraduate researchers share work at SETGO fair

If the work displayed at the second annual SETGO summer research fair on July 23 was any indication, the future of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) in the United States is in good hands.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, 40 undergraduates from BGSU and Owens Community College spent 10 weeks conducting original research with 27 BGSU faculty members.

“SETGO is strategically focused to teach young scholars how to systematically and scientifically pursue answers to questions about the universe and all that lives in it,” Provost Ken Borland said in congratulating them on their accomplishments.

The intense experience, said Owens President Larry McDougle, is “the difference between contributing and total commitment.”

Randall Littlejohn, a BGSU Firelands junior majoring in computer science, joined an ongoing interdisciplinary project designed to help budding geologists develop their spatial visualization ability — a crucial skill for them. Mentored by Firelands computer science faculty Dr. Rachelle Hippler, he collaborated with other faculty in computer sciences, geology and psychology.

Designing the software needed for assessment of ability, he said, proved very satisfying. “Most of the time in classroom work, you complete assignments. But this is something someone needed. They told me what they wanted and I built it. I got to work with graduate students and other students in the research project. I also met a lot of faculty here (on main campus), so I feel more comfortable transferring here.”

“The SETGO experience allows our students to see the entire life cycle of a project, from assessing clients’ needs to designing and writing the program to implementing it,”
Hippler said.

Students also got truly “hands-on” experience in how scientists must sometimes improvise. Senior biology majors Heather Conger and Katie Heilman worked on “Developing Field Methods for DNA Extractions” with Dr. Scott Rogers, biology. Conger described the methods they devised as “high-tech, low-tech,” which meant using a filed-down screwdriver to grind samples, a salad spinner as a centrifuge to extract the DNA, and a simple camp stove and ethanol to prepare the samples.

On the other end of the spectrum, senior engineering major David Smith and second-year master’s degree student Najib Ahmad worked with Dr. Todd Waggoner, engineering technology, on “reverse engineering” of wind turbines to allow individuals to create their own residential-use turbines.


Emily West
Emily West (left) explains her research into sustainable Web design to SETGO fair visitors.

David Smith and Najib Ahmad
Engineering technology senior David Smith (right) chats with graduate student Najib Ahmad about their wind turbine project.




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July 27, 2010