Undergraduates display their research

Tracy Ellingson

Undergraduates majoring in science-related fields proved Wednesday that faculty and graduate students aren’t the only members of the University community making important contributions to research.
The Life Sciences Undergraduate Symposium, held on the St. Paul campus, gave students the opportunity to display posters outlining the research they do with their professors and graduate students.
“We started (the symposium) to let people know what undergraduates were doing in research labs,” said Frank Barnwell, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.
“Research goes on tucked away in laboratories,” said Barnwell, who also serves as the coordinator for the College of Biological Sciences honors program, which sponsors the annual symposium. “Nobody really had a sense of the huge scope of undergraduate research here at the University, or the quality of it,” he added.
The display posters, which include the hypotheses and conclusions of students’ research and graphics to illustrate their findings, are commonly used by professional scientists to convey their work to their peers.
Presenting research posters is very much a part of scientific tradition, said Kathleen Peterson, senior academic adviser in Biological Sciences Student Services. “This is what scientists do when they get together at their own conferences.”
This year’s symposium drew a record 65 students. The majority were seniors who were required to participate as part of the biological sciences honors program, but undergraduates from all life sciences disciplines also contributed.
As a kickoff to the event, Jessie Gillund, a senior honors student majoring in genetics and cell biology, was selected by her peers to present her research project. Gillund has been performing research in genetics since October and based her thesis on that work.
Although Gillund had given her presentation at an earlier symposium, she said the added work of putting the poster together made this program a more stressful event.
“But I think it’s good for me; I think I’m learning a lot,” Gillund added.
Using colorful pictures taken with a laser confocal microscope, College of Biological Sciences senior Matthew Finke presented his poster, which detailed his research of Alzheimer’s disease.
Finke, who said he hopes to attend medical school in about a year, said he will continue working in this research area even after he graduates.
“This is a really big problem,” Finke said about the disease he has investigated for the last two years. “It affects over 50 million people. It’s been a real booming research area since Ronald Reagan said,’I have Alzheimer’s disease.'”
Through discussion of cells and genes to life-threatening diseases, the symposium allowed students from a wide range of scientific fields to learn from one another.
Alan Hunter, a professor in the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, had five students participate in the symposium. Hunter said the program gave undergraduates the opportunity to see beyond the laboratory into a larger community.
“They’ve been working in the laboratory as individuals seeing only the people that happen to wander into that laboratory,” Hunter said. “Now all of a sudden they’re amongst other people who have had the same experience they have. It’s a celebration of hard work and productive work.”