Senior S.T.E.M. majors discuss I.S. results and give future students advice

Jonathan Logan

S&E Editor

Melita Wiles

S&E Editor

 

Kendra Devereux, Environmental Geoscience

What is your topic?  

My I.S. is titled: Climate Change Impacts go Beyond the Surface: Groundwater Recharge Rates and Aquifer Resources across the Contiguous United States. In my study, I use previously-developed regression equations to calculate current precipitation rates, evapotranspiration rates and runoff rates at 800 meter resolution. I was then able to calculate groundwater recharge rates. To display my results, I used ArcGIS to do the calculations and create various maps.

How did you choose your topic?  

I chose this study while participating in a virtual summer R.E.U. program with Rutgers University’s Ocean Data Labs. My R.E.U. advisor gave me a few options for a project I could continue into the school year as my I.S. topic. Understanding where our water resources are the most stressed across the U.S. was interesting to me because I felt that it held broader implications. 

What was the most difficult part of the study?  

The most difficult part of the study was the tedious work I had to do in ArcGIS to make my maps. I spent many long hours figuring out how to gather all of the necessary datasets and trying to get the methods to work in ArcGIS. This process was very frustrating, but it was also rewarding when I finally finished a map and got to see all of my hard work pay off. 

How have you grown and developed as a researcher/student/person from this process?  

As a student and researcher, I feel that this project has taught me how to work independently to solve problems. There was a lot of trial and error in this study, but I learned to have fun with the process and learned that patience is necessary in research.

What did you find and how is it relevant or significant?  

My study displayed — with a high degree of specificity (800 meters) — which regions of the U.S. have higher rates of precipitation and recharge, and which have lower rates of precipitation and recharge. Additionally, by pairing these findings with changing large-scale precipitation patterns over the U.S. and regional dependence on groundwater, I was able to present which areas in the U.S. may have problems with agriculture in the future due to having either too little or too much precipitation and groundwater recharge. These findings are highly relevant to global food systems because they suggest that agricultural production will shift to new areas within the U.S. and to other countries.

What words of wisdom do you have for upcoming seniors?  

Pick a topic you are truly interested in. I.S. doesn’t have to be this big, stressful, scary thing. It can be a lot of fun if you are working on something you care about. 

Georgia Hopps-Weber Chemistry & Art History

What is your topic?

My I.S. is titled: Preserving Keith Haring’s Legacy of “Art for All” through the Study of the Chemical Degradation of Daylight Fluorescent Paints and their Constituent Rhodamine Dyes.  In the lab, I explored the degradation of Day-Glo and Radiant brand red paints and their constituent dyes and optical brighteners under UV-A (ultraviolet) blacklight and LED white light. On the art history side of things, Keith Haring used Day-Glo paints to make a substantial number of paintings, sculptures and murals in the 1980s, and then displayed them in galleries with white lights, club-like galleries lit with blacklights and outdoors. I wanted to see if the paints responded differently to UV vs. LED lighting in order to make recommendations for future display of these works.

How did you choose your topic?

I knew I wanted to work with Dr. Sobeck since she has done a substantial amount of research on the chemistry of paint. While Dr. Sobeck was on sabbatical last year, she began doing research on Day-Glo pigments, and as soon as I saw how bright and exciting the fluorescent paints were, I knew that I wanted to work with them! I decided to apply my chemistry findings to works done by Keith Haring because he created such a large number of Day-Glo works and his art fills me with so much joy!

What was the most difficult part of the study?

The most difficult part of the study was finding a balance between my lab research and literature research on Keith Haring. I wanted to finish my lab work in the fall semester, but this left very little time to work on my art history sections during the spring semester.

How have you grown and developed as a researcher/student/person from this process?

I have grown so much as a researcher and person working on this project for the past year and a half. Before working on I.S., I was really intimidated by the idea of doing research of any kind.  I now feel confident in my abilities to work in the lab, problem solve and communicate my findings to others. 

What did you find and how is it relevant or significant?

I found that both Day-Glo and Radiant brand red paints showed little to no change when exposed to LED lights for a prolonged time, whereas the same paints lost fluorescent intensity and changed hue when exposed to UV-A blacklights. This suggests that it is safer to display artwork containing daylight fluorescent paints under LED lights, and if blacklights are required to create the full effect, or to honor the original intentions of the artist, then they should be used in a limited amount.  

What words of wisdom do you have for upcoming seniors?

My advice to upcoming seniors is to choose a topic that you are really passionate about, and to be okay with not knowing the answers sometimes! Although there were some stressful moments during this process, I enjoyed almost every hour I spent in the lab, reading about Keith Haring and writing my I.S. because I just loved my topic so much.

 Oria Daugherty – Biology

What is your topic?

My I.S. was focused on exploring reforestation strategies at Fern Valley Field Station, which is land that was donated to the College and is undergoing reforestation. I was looking at how “coarse woody debris”— basically, logs, stumps, branches, etc.— impact wildlife populations, particularly snakes and small mammals. I found that simply adding this debris to areas of reforestation increases the abundance of small mammals, which could be a good sign for future reforestation projects.

How did you choose your topic?

I worked with my advisor, Dr. Lehtinen, to find a topic that matched both my interests in sustainability and the environment, as well as his long-term goals for the field station. This is a project that can carry over into other years, and will hopefully serve as a demonstration for various reforestation practices that might be possible elsewhere.

What was the most difficult part of the study? 

It was tough collecting the data, because I had to go out in the evening to set up traps, and then get up early the next morning to check them, identify anything that was captured, and release it. Sometimes it was tough being out in the field and feeling like I wasn’t getting a lot of data for what felt like a lot of work. Spending a week cleaning over sixty metal traps wasn’t too fun either!

How have you grown and developed as a researcher/student/person from this process?

I think this research process really showed me how tedious “doing science” can really be — everyone always thinks about scientific inquiry in a very broad way and sees the result. What people don’t recognize is all the tiny details and tasks that go into conducting research, especially field research where there are many variables outside of your control.

What did you find and how is it relevant or significant?

I did find that there is a statistically significant difference in the presence of small mammals in areas where coarse woody debris is present, compared to where it is not. This could prove to be significant for reforestation projects where quickly increasing wildlife biodiversity or abundance is the goal.

What words of wisdom do you have for upcoming seniors? 

Trust the process! Know that you are going to be frustrated, and whatever is happening, your advisor has probably dealt with it before. They can help you, and you should be willing to ask them for help. Recognizing that you aren’t completely alone in the process sooner will make your life easier, I promise!

Daniel Halbing – Physics & Philosophy

What is your topic?

My topic was titled The Effect of Varying Paneling Characteristics on Soccer Ball Flight. My project tested the predictability of seven different soccer match balls (professional level) by using initial shot data to create a theoretical flight path for each shot and then comparing the actual observed flight path to this theoretical flight path. Since each of the balls was constructed very uniquely, with varying surface roughness, seam counts, raised features etc., the goal was to find which characteristics of a soccer ball’s surface (paneling) makes the flight more or less predictable.

How did you choose your topic?

My idea for my topic came largely out of my desire to try to make my I.S. about something I would be truly passionate about. Soccer is one of my life’s passions (you could even say obsessions), and through this topic I was able to combine my love of physics with my love of soccer.

What was the most difficult part of the study?

The most difficult part was my data analysis, as I had to go through an average of 250 frames of video per shot on goal and select the ball in each frame of video. I ended up with about 70 shots on goal collected, so in total I analyzed approximately 17,500 frames of video.

How have you grown and developed as a researcher/student/person from this process?

I grew tremendously throughout my I.S. process, especially during this pandemic year. As a researcher, I learned how truly adaptable you must be while doing research, since unpredictable challenges ranging from video files corrupting unexpectedly to being quarantined for close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 can occur out of the blue. I also grew a great deal as a person. This pandemic year took its toll on everyone mentally and combined with I.S., it took a lot of mental fortitude and determination to continue when sometimes it felt like nothing was going right.

What did you find and how is it relevant or significant?

My conclusion was that, due to changes between turbulent and laminar airflow around a ball in flight, shots with high spin rates tend to be more predictable the more perfectly spherical a ball is. On the other hand, shots with low spin rates tend to be more predictable the less perfectly spherical a ball is. This obviously provides a paradox for manufacturers, as a ball must perform well in both high spin and low spin situations. It was found that the Adidas UEFA Nations League Match Ball did the best job of bridging the gap between the two situations. This conclusion is significant because it shows that while it seems impossible to make the perfectly predictable soccer ball, it appears that the features of the Adidas UEFA Nations League Match Ball is what manufacturers should model their match balls after.

What words of wisdom do you have for upcoming seniors?

Find a project you love for your I.S.! Some days it really is hard to find motivation to work on I.S., but if it is a project you are genuinely interested in, it will never feel like a responsibility; it will feel more like an opportunity!