Last Friday, 45 Muhlenberg College students presented at the Science Summer Research Poster Session, a culmination of their summer work. Each on-campus summer science research student was awarded an 8-10 week stipend supported by either internal College grants, some external funding or generous alumni.
Among those presenting were five athletes. We asked them about their research projects and life as a student-athlete.
Michael Baer, Track & Field (A Possible Role for nhr-239 in Sensory Response)
Describe your research project. I study feeding behavior in the nematode C. elegans. Specifically, I am working on uncovering the function of a poorly studied gene, nhr-239, because when we delete this gene the nematodes show a different feeding pattern. Right now we think that this change has to do with oxygen sensation.
Why did you choose this topic? I originally joined Dr. Wightman’s lab because genetics is a field of study that I find very interesting and may continue to study in the future. I enjoy my topic because of all the unknowns present. Our lab is the first to work on the function of nhr-239.
What did it mean to you to be named an Academic All-American last year? Being named an Academic All-American last year was a great honor, especially since athletics and academics are the largest parts of my life at Muhlenberg. I’ve always viewed myself as a student-athlete, which made this award such an honor for me.
Nicki Cronin and Nate Crossette, Cross Country/Track & Field (Calibrations for High Energy Physics)
Describe your research project. (NIcki) We were studying the properties of the quark gluon plasma, which was created from the collisions of gold nuclei. This interests us because it recreates the conditions microseconds after the big bang and we are interested studying these properties of the early universe. Specifically, we worked with a detector called the Muon Piston Calorimeter and calibrating its response to the photons it detected from the pi zero decays.
(Nate) The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a particle collider in Long Island, is powerful enough to create a quark gluon plasma, the hottest known matter in the universe, when it smashes gold nuclei together at great enough speeds. Detectors surrounding the collision make measurements by detecting particles that were created when the plasma cools and expands. My contribution to the research collaboration at RHIC was to help calibrate the Muon Piston Calorimeter, a subsystem of a detector, using computer simulations and collision data.
Why did you choose this topic? (Nate) I chose this research because when asked what I want to do with physics, I don’t have an answer. I want to find an answer to that question. My favorite part of this experience was learning how to write computer code that models physical phenomena.
What did you enjoy most about it? (Nicki) This was an area of physics that I had never explored before and I truly learned a lot in the process about nuclear and particle physics as well as computer programming. It was an amazing and unique experience to not only be able to work with other students from Muhlenberg, but with physicists from around the world who have been doing research like this for years.
Do you take more pride in your athletic achievements or your academic achievements? (Nicki) Personally, I take more pride in my academic achievements. Athletics is a good addition in my life, I love running with my team and it helps keep me balanced, but ultimately, it is my academics that is going to take me where I want to be in life. For me, academics is the number one priority.
Is it more challenging to understand physics or run an 8K in the mud? (Nate) Understanding physics and running an 8k through the mud are both fun, yet challenging in opposite ways. Running is simple, so it’s very easy to overcomplicate. During a race, the challenge is to focus on telling your body to relax and run faster, even when you are very tired. Physics is really complicated, so the challenge is thinking of scenarios that demonstrate physics principles in a way that makes it easy to understand while not oversimplifying. I don’t think I could pick which one is harder. I enjoy both.
Melissa Ugelow, Cross Country/Track & Field (Tailoring Porous Silicon for Analyte Response)
Describe your research project. My research this summer focused on assessing and characterizing porous silicon and its sensing properties. The ultimate goal of the project is to be able to tailor the surface of porous silicon for analyte response.
What did you enjoy most about it? What I enjoyed the most about this topic was that it was so new to me. I was able to learn so many new analytical techniques and use new instruments.