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Skidmore College

Skidmore conference to focus on undergraduate research

September 27, 2011
Kim Frederick, associate professor of chemistry, and a team of
Skidmore students are exploring various aspects of new microfluidic,
or "lab-on-a-chip," devices. From left to right: Aaron Osher '13, Leland
Martin '14, Sarah Bashaw '11, Denise Croote (a student at Ballston Spa
High School), Prof. Kim Frederick, Ryan Ahern '14, and Brenda Olivo '14.
At Saturday's conference, Osher, Martin and Olivo will report on new
techniques they've developed for creating microfluidic chips.

The effects of Facebook on college students, banjo-instruction methods in 19 th century America, and the potential to create safer schools by increasing teachers' awareness of bullying are a few of the 72 topics on which students from seven upstate colleges will report Saturday, October 1 at the Skidmore Undergraduate Research Conference.

With just over 100 students submitting abstracts singly and in teams, the conference is the largest of its kind to be hosted by any of the participating colleges.

"Our aim is to give undergraduates the experience of presenting at a professional meeting without the high registration fees and travel costs of a professional conference," said Bob Turner, associate professor of government at Skidmore and conference organizer.  

It was just this kind of collaboration that six upstate colleges - Skidmore, Union, Colgate, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, and Hobart William Smith - aimed to achieve when they launched the New York 6 Liberal Arts Consortium in 2009. This is the first academic project the consortium has sponsored, said Amy Cronin, consortium coordinator.

"Given the fantastic response to the call for presentations for this initial event, I anticipate that it will become an annual fixture in the consortium's activities," she said.

Most of the student researchers spent the summer working in labs and laboratories with their professors, who also will attend. "These experiences are providing with the sort of training and education that typically are available only to graduate students," Turner said.

"They are learning cutting-edge research techniques such as terahertz spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, gene replacement, and cultivation of stem cells. Analyzing the composition of stalagmites, they have measured the climate of the earth as it was 130,000 years ago. They have explored the formation of galaxies and determined how memory affects smell. They have conducted research on nematodes, crayfish, yellowthroats, zebra fish, bird lice, retroviruses, green algae and ATV suspension systems. They have investigated congenital heart defects, fetal alcohol syndrome, diabetes, anti-cancer and anti-fungal drugs, solar panels, robots that can walk, and 'fingerprints' for digital cameras."

The students' research is not in the natural sciences alone, Turner continued. "Students also have conducted research on memoirs of Latvian exiles, Perestroika-era Russian comics, Adirondack theater organizations, corporate-sponsored women sports organizations, Kerouac's On the Road, Nuyorican poetry, and King Arthur legends."

An artistic highlight of the conference will be a Taiko drum performance that demonstrates the impact of the West on Japanese culture. 

"This conference has the potential to transform both the students and our respective institutions," Turner said. "When students present their research and answer the questions of their peers, it stimulates their intellectual creativity and aspirations as they see how their colleagues analyze different questions using other methods."

Faculty relationships also may be transformed, giving those who mentor student researchers a rare opportunity to meet, Turner said. "I hope the conference will identify shared intellectual passions that lead to collaborative research and teaching opportunities among the schools that allow us to tap into our collective expertise in the future."

The program, which starts at 9:30 a.m., is open to the public. For the conference schedule and program, click here.

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