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Five science students awarded NSF summer research opportunities

One biology student, one geography student, and three materials science students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire have been selected to participate in the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer research program.

Students spending the summer conducting research at graduate programs around the world are Shelby Hamlin, a senior biology major from Eau Claire; Emily Christenson, a senior geography major from Andover, Minnesota, Anneliese Laskowski, a junior materials science major from Osseo; Max Dylla, a junior materials science major from Rochester, Minnesota; and Tayo Sanders II, a junior materials science major from Kaukauna. Each student is currently engaged in faculty-student research projects at UW-Eau Claire.

The REU program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any NSF funded area of research and provides students with the opportunity to engage in research at prestigious colleges and universities.

"REU research experiences are very competitive," said Dr. Wilson Taylor, professor and chair of the UW-Eau Claire biology department. "Being selected speaks mainly to the high quality of the students and their achievements thus far."

This summer, Hamlin will conduct research at Michigan State University in its Plant Genomic REU program on a project titled "Understanding the Role of Peroxisomal Photorespiration in Photosynthesis and Plant Growth under High Light." The purpose of the project is to learn about the mechanism by which photorespiration modulates photosynthesis.

Hamlin will work alongside mentors in the lab and attend weekly seminars. She also will present her research to other participants and faculty mentors at the end of the program.

"To be selected for this program is a great accomplishment in furthering my career as a scientist," Hamlin said. "I plan to attend graduate school after I graduate in December. Participating in this program will allow me to gain a new and different experience, which will be beneficial for graduate school and will allow me to further develop my interests. I believe personally this experience will teach me a lot about myself and will help me learn how to handle new situations."

Speaking on behalf of the biology department, Taylor said, "Shelby's selection speaks to the opportunities that are afforded by the biology department here at UW-Eau Claire. Our program intentionally trains students to do science, particularly those who work one-on-one with faculty in the lab. We are justifiably proud of Shelby for her success in landing this experience."

During the program, Hamlin will have the opportunity to benefit from firsthand experience in a lab more closely related to her interests, said Dr. Jamie Lyman Gingerich, an assistant professor of biology and research mentor.

"As Shelby's interests lie in molecular genetics and plant biology, the MSU REU program will allow her to explore both the intersection of these interests and potential career paths," Gingerich said. "The program will provide opportunities for interaction with scientists at many different career stages. These interactions and mentoring in her summer research lab are vital in ensuring that Shelby has a more complete picture of future opportunities."

Christenson will conduct research in the department of geosciences at Georgia State University during her REU program experience. The focus of the research program is to address social and environmental disparities through community geography and geographic information systems.

"I am most looking forward to working with members of the Atlanta community to understand the current state of urban green spaces and explore ways to improve upon any aspect that needs attention," Christenson said. "Professionally, this opportunity will be a great way to establish connections with professionals outside of UW-Eau Claire and learn a new method of data collection and analysis. Personally, I am excited to discover what the Atlanta community and culture is all about and make some friends in a different part of the country."

After graduation in December, Christenson will spend a year in Rhineland, Germany, as part of an au pair nanny program. While in Germany, she intends to conduct personal research of the area and continue her work with GIS and geographic analysis.

Dr. Matt Jewell, a UW-Eau Claire assistant professor of materials science and research mentor, spoke of the materials science students selected for the REU program.

"As a program, we're of course thrilled that our students have been honored in this way, and it's a strong confirmation that the high-impact experiences we try to provide through our curriculum and research groups are seen as valuable by both the students and by those outside of the UW-Eau Claire community," Jewell said.

Laskowski will spend the summer conducting research at Boise State University studying the magneto-mechanics of magnetic shape-memory alloys, which have the capability to deform, stretch and strain, similar to the mechanics of muscles, when exposed to a variable magnetic field. She will have the opportunity to work closely with a graduate student and learn to operate characterization instruments such as the vibrating sample magnetometer, the mechanical test bench and the atomic force microscope.

Being selected to this program provides an opportunity to grow personally and academically, Laskowski said.

"I feel very blessed to be given this opportunity," Laskowski said. "Academically, this experience will give me the opportunity to improve my skills as a researcher and expand my knowledge on metal alloys. Personally, this experience will help me grow and become more independent. This will be my first time away from home, and I am willing and thrilled to take the challenge."

Laskowski will graduate in 2015 and plans to enroll in graduate school to earn a master's degree in materials science. Her goal is to work on energy conservation projects, specifically wind and solar power.

Dylla will conduct research at Northwestern University's International Institute of Nanotechnology where he will work in a graduate research group.

"I'm looking forward to working on a new research project and being in a new group dynamic," Dylla said. "I find the challenge of adapting to a new research environment exciting and am looking forward to applying research skills I have learned at UW-Eau Claire to my work at Northwestern University. Diversifying my research experiences will help me grow as a beginning researcher."

Sanders, a McNair Scholar and participant in the university Honors Program, will conduct research at the Institute of Physics and Chemistry of Materials in Strasbourg, France, through the University of Florida. Sanders' research will focus on developing a new synthetic route for silver and gold nanoparticles via electrodeposition from ionic liquid-crystals. The current emphasis is on modifying the structure of the liquid-crystal phase to influence the shape and size of the nanoparticles.

Sanders will spend approximately 40 hours per week working with a team of researchers at the institute. At the end of the program, he will author a full report on the completed research and present the project at the American Chemical Society's national conference in 2015.

"This program was so enticing because it provides me with an opportunity to view research from an entirely new perspective," Sanders said. "In a world that's growing increasingly interconnected, I believe it is vital to be able to understand and appreciate scientific research in an international context. This program will challenge me, and I will have to learn how to integrate quickly as well as demonstrate that, regardless of the situation, I can continue to conduct high quality research."

The opportunity to establish connections with research mentors and colleagues, along with acquiring new skill sets during the REU program, will prove to be invaluable in pursuing graduate fellowships, Sanders said.

"Perhaps most importantly, this program will help me learn more about myself and my ability to thrive in a markedly new setting," Sanders said. "I am absolutely thrilled that I will be able to participate in such a compelling program and cannot thank my mentor and professors enough for supporting my academic and research activities at UW-Eau Claire and helping me turn this opportunity into a reality."

The REU program is a fantastic opportunity for students to interact with graduate students and see what life is like in a top graduate research program, Jewell said.

"I think the students are going to find it really valuable as they learn new scientific skills and techniques and also as they get firsthand readings of how advisers, postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates all work together to move a large research program forward."