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Clarkson's Commitment To Undergraduate Research Enhances Students Learning And Future Career Prospects

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From investigating affordable methods for extracting renewable energy from ocean tidal movements and the role of protein receptors in the development of cervical cancer, to engineering skin substitutes to reduce scarring, undergraduates at Clarkson University are gaining valuable, hands-on experience in cutting-edge research. SURE 2004

They are also gaining insights into possible career opportunities and significantly enhancing their professional credentials for future employment or advanced degree programs.

“The opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in state-of-the-art research projects is part of Clarkson’s commitment to providing real-world, hands-on learning experiences,” said Rebecca Sutcliffe, director of Research and Curriculum Innovation. “The benefits to the students are extraordinary. They gain experience in the thinking processes and the hands-on technical skills needed to tackle open-ended problems. They get involved in collaborative working relationships with faculty and other students. And they get an idea of what opportunities are out there.”

Student undergraduate research activities at Clarkson University are funded through a variety of grants, including the National Science Foundation and the McNair Scholars Research Program. Students in the Clarkson Honors Program embark on research projects the summer before they enter their freshman year. Many Clarkson undergraduates are also engaged in independent research projects or work in laboratories. Research projects cover a wide variety of disciplines, from bio-molecular science to mechanical engineering and computer science.

First-year chemistry major and Honors Program student Cassandra Becker has been working in the laboratory with project mentor Anja Mueller, professor of chemistry, to create an imprinted polymer that when added to wastewater removes heavy metals.

“Today there are several methods to purify wastewater – filtration, bacteria sludge, and activated carbon beds,” explained Becker. “When using bacteria to break down waste, certain molecules, such as ammonia, sodium chloride, and heavy metal ions, can act as inhibitors by killing the bacteria. Our objective was to create an imprinted polymer that would remove the bacteria-killing heavy metals from the water, which, in turn, would make the treatment method more efficient.

“The experience has been amazing,” Becker added. “I’ve had a chance to learn research techniques, get to know some of the faculty, and gain valuable experience in the lab. Most freshmen lab experiences feel like you are working out of a cookbook. You follow the directions and you get the desired results. This was much more exciting.”

Last month, Becker was one of more than 40 students who presented the results of research projects at the fifth annual Symposium on Undergraduate Research Experiences held recently on the Clarkson campus. The symposium included an afternoon of poster displays and presentations before fellow student researchers, faculty and the general public.

Two seniors and three juniors in the Department of Biology delivered a poster presentation on their research project titled “Swimming with E. coli: effects of land-use on water quality in the St. Regis River,” and funded through a grant from the Great Lakes Research Consortium.

The students worked with Clarkson Professor of Liberal Arts Jan Wojcik and Professor of Biology Michael Twiss sampling 15 sites along the north-flowing St. Regis River, which runs through St. Lawrence and Franklin counties. The student researchers were measuring the levels of E. coli found in the river in relation to other water quality parameters, including total phosphorous, dissolved nitrate, chlorophyll-a, turbity, and total bacteria. The students are still analyzing the data and comparing it to information on land use to determine how farm run-off affects the water quality.

“In our textbooks we read about water studies and it is a maze of numbers and you feel very disconnected from the research and its implications, “ said junior Neal Liddle, one of the project’s participants. “But when you work on an actual project on an actual river and it is in your own community, it is an entirely different and more personal experience.

“I’ve also learned a lot about collecting samples and analyzing data,” Liddle added.  “This summer I will be doing similar work at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Because of my research experiences at Clarkson, I am well prepared.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Clarkson University student researchers were on hand to display and explain results of research projects to fellow students, faculty and members of the general public at the fifth annual Symposium of Undergraduate Research Experiences held last month on the Clarkson campus.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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