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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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University of Utah Hosts Annual UROP Symposium

(Photo by Hailey Danielson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


This article was originally published in print on April 15.

On April 9, the Office of Undergraduate Research held the Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Union building. The symposium highlighted the research of students in various majors across campus. Those who participated in the symposium were part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) where they either assisted a faculty member in their research or found a faculty member to oversee them in their own research, often relating to a thesis or capstone.

The students who presented their work did so either through displaying a poster, which was the majority of the participants, or through an oral presentation. The students represented departments and colleges across campus and different types of research ranging from scientific studies to dance performances to psychology.

Cindy Greaves, program manager for the Office of Undergraduate Research, said that there was a record number of students who presented on Tuesday. This year, the total number of students signed up to present was 520, split between three sessions throughout the day. Greaves has worked in her position for nearly four years, but said that the symposium has been going on at the U for probably around 20 years so that “students are able to showcase their work.” Greaves sees the symposium as an “opportunity for [students] to disseminate their research” to others.

It was biology sophomore Bill Jiang’s first time presenting at the symposium, although he had been a part of student research at the U since he was in high school. He was seeking a way to improve lenses for cataract surgery. Jiang’s team performed their tests on rats, injecting one eye with the new treatment while making the other eye the control for the current method. According to Jiang, rats were the chosen subjects for their testing as they manifest results quickly.

Jiang’s research did find that the newer type of lens they tested showed a slower deterioration than the control. When asked what he found important about student research, Jiang said, “I feel like with research you’re applying the research to the real world and helping others.” He was able to work alongside other faculty members to experiment and was able to gain experience in a lab setting.

Hannah Stevens, a senior in geography and environmental science, also presented a poster displaying her study of the fire history in an area in Utah dating back all the way to the 1500s. The researchers found through their dating that the largest fires were related to change in temperatures. She also saw that fire suppression, a practice that has been in place for many years where if a forest fire starts, it is immediately extinguished, may result in an increase of larger, more dangerous fires.

Stevens instead recommended “prescribed burns,” controlled burns that occur in order to keep the environment healthy and prevent larger and more dangerous fires. According to Stevens, she started on this research because she “wanted to confirm the link between climate change and fire burns.” She also said that “we need to change our practices,” in reference to fire suppression. Stevens has been working on her research for the past year. She said that the opportunity for student research is important because it is “the only way to get real life experience” for research jobs.

Aileen Norris from the dance department performed an oral presentation during the first session. Her research was conducted in connection with choreographing a dance. Before presenting the dance, she said that “a lot of us haven’t thought of dance as research” and then introduced the six dancers that would be performing. She did not say much else about the interpretation of the performance because she wanted to leave it up to the audience.

They danced to a variety of songs, including Doris Day’s version of “Que Sera Sera.” Throughout the performance, the music would occasionally stop so that one of the dancers could insert some lines about domestic violence and a woman shot by a gun.

At the end, Norris came back to talk with those in attendance. This time, she explained her interpretation and explanation for the performance of her research. “The overarching theme for me was gun violence,” she said. Her focus was also on how women feel walking down a dark street and the question “how do we process rage, how do we process sadness?” Her goal was to use dance as a way to portray violence against women.

Marybai Huking, a junior majoring in both psychology and human development, displayed a poster at the symposium. She had researched the differences between attachment styles in select individuals who were adopted earlier in life as opposed to those who were not adopted as early. Huking also looked at behavioral issues with adopted children, which she had been researching for several months.

Huking’s study found that children adopted earlier in their lives had a better chance of adapting to better attachment styles and also displaying better behavior. Huking thinks undergraduate research is an important part of her education at the U because “the sooner you’re able to get into working with labs the more excited you become about the possibility of going to graduate school.” Huking also said that it is a good opportunity to “make sure it’s something you want to do moving forward,” and that her research helped solidify her desires to continue on her research and career path.

Lydia Fries, a sophomore studying chemistry, also had a poster presentation about developing new catalysts to use in chemical reaction. Her new catalyst is a potential cobalt alternative with the right ligands as stabilizers, and that could possibility eliminate the need for harmful or expensive chemicals. The ligands would help to lengthen the amount of time that cobalt is stable. She has been working for about a year on this process and helped in forming some of the ligands. She was also a participant in adding electrons to the test cobalt.

Fries sees undergraduate research as important because “being involved and seeing the process solidified my want to do research.” She was not sure what exact path she wanted to take in her career, but now she is seriously considering research.

In order to get started on their research projects, students had to either apply to do research with a faculty member or have an idea for a research opportunity and find a faculty member willing to help oversee the student during their research process.

The symposium included many other student posters, as well as more oral presentations. The oral presentations were held in several locations throughout the Union and ran in increments of 20 minutes. The sessions each lasted an hour and a half with 15 minutes in between to allow for people to clean up and the new round of presenters to prepare. There were other presenters that presented on other types of projects, and there were also many supporters in attendance, friends, family, faculty members and those simply curious to learn more about the different research projects that have been occurring on campus.

As a school that promotes student involvement in researching with UROP or attending community engaged learning classes, the U encourages students to gain real-world experience in their desired field. UROP was a chance for students that have been researching to have an opportunity to present and show other students and faculty the work they have put into their research.

UROP applications for the summer semester are now closed, but the chance to apply for the fall semester is still available. Those who are seeking to find a research opportunity or have an idea in mind can visit UROP’s site to get more information, find ways to contact or visit the office or apply for a research opportunity.

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