Standout Science Summers
As the summer comes to a close and new Ogden Honors College first-years arrive on LSU’s campus, we wanted to take one last look back at the incredible experiences Ogden students have had around the world over the last few months. Many of our students choose to spend their summer breaks conducting research, in everything from art history to zoology. We recently heard from three of our students who spent the summer pursuing their particular research interests within the sciences, using funding provided by national and international undergraduate research grants.
Ogden Honors College senior and Biological Engineering major Craig Richard spent his summer in Grenoble, France, working at the French Alternative Energies Commission (CEA), as a researcher in its Institute for Nanosciences and Cryogenics. Richard has been conducting research on Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR), an optical technique used in the study of molecular interactions. Specifically, he’s been developing ways to improve the sensitivity of SPR when used in genetic research. In his experiment, Richard applies SPR techniques to short DNA sequences and examines the effects of certain variables on plasmon coupling and signal strength.
Richard’s research at the CEA is connected to his research at LSU, in which he is determining the molecular structure of a DNA-based anticancer drug that targets the KRAS oncogene (a gene that, when mutated, contributes to the development of several types of cancer).
“Both here and at LSU, my research takes advantage of DNA base-paring complementarity,” Craig explained. “My interest in genetics, genetic engineering, and cancer align very well with this opportunity at the CEA, which has given me some insight into the areas that I could delve into more deeply for my graduate studies.”
Craig’s research position is funded by the GIANT International Internship Program. He was connected with the GIANT Program by one of his advisors in the LA-STEM Research Scholars Program at LSU, and decided to apply for the summer experience in order to learn more about and participate in a wider variety of research in his field. “Being able to experience a different culture and a different work environment has also been interesting,” Craig concluded. “I hope the insights I’ve been gaining about my field and myself will serve me later on in my career.”
Ogden Honors College and LSU College of Science junior Irene Vargas-Salazar is spending her summer break conducting astronomy research at Texas A&M in College Station, TX. Vargas-Salazar is working at Texas A&M through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program, which funds research positions for US undergrads.
Vargas-Salazar has spent the past few month studying photometry imaging from the Hubble Telescope. “What I’m working on right now is improving the signal-to-noise ratio of two fields of view,” Salazar said. “What this means is that I’m working on sets of images of two different gallery clusters taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and I’m cleaning and aligning them to produce a clean image that we can do science with.”
As a Physics major with a concentration in Astronomy, this research position was exactly what she had been looking for. “This opportunity fits in really well with my career plans,” Vargas-Salazar said. “I’ve known about REUs since my freshman year, so I just went to the NSF website and found this particular REU among others focusing on astronomy.” (For a full list of NSF REU opportunities, visit: http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp.)
One thing Vargas-Salazar has gained this summer? A broader view of her career options. “I want a career doing research in astronomy, but I haven’t decided on a specific area of focus,” Vargas-Salazar said. “This summer, I’ve gotten a wider perspective on what other types of research can be done in astronomy. I feel that this, plus my Honors College experience—especially the thesis that I have to write!—will help me to make a clear choice about what and where I want to research in the future.”
Ogden Honors junior and Chemical Engineering major Jon Wilson is also conducting research on an NSF REU this summer. Wilson is working in a chemistry lab at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ, where he’s been examining the structure and composition of lithium ion batteries. Wilson fabricates and cycles (charges and then discharges) the batteries, and finally characterizes their “post-mortem” state. “One application of these studies,” Wilson noted, “is to figure out to how to stop batteries from catching on fire and exploding, which is probably important!”
This summer position speaks to all that Wilson has been learning and researching at LSU. “The charging dynamics of lithium ion batteries involve a lot of materials, thermodynamics, and mass transport concepts that are core to chemical engineering,” Wilson explained. “At LSU, I’ve been researching electrochemical copper catalysts that convert carbon dioxide to useful fuels. My summer project has helped me become more comfortable with electrochemistry concepts, so I’m hoping that will show when I come back to my project at LSU in the fall.” He chose to pursue this particular REU because he was interested in getting experience working with technologies relevant to solving problems with renewable energy. “This project ties in well with that goal,” he said. “I think large-scale batteries will be essential to stabilizing the unpredictable output of green power sources like wind and solar.”
As for his post-graduation plans, Wilson hasn’t quite settled on a specific field of engineering for his career. “I’m interested in a lot of different topics of research,” Wilson concluded. “But one of my goals is to get into a good graduate program, and completing an Honors Thesis should be proof that I am able to do research!”
Article by Liz Billet Torrey, Ogden Honors College