STEM Initiative Grows to Promote Science Education

By Rei Ramos ‘15
University Communications

A new student organization is hoping to sow the seeds of science throughout the Rochester community.  Dubbed the STEM Initiative, the group focuses on motivating and inspiring young students to pursue education in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

“Our focus is giving students STEM education at an early age,” said Jenny Yoon ‘16, a microbiology major and one of the organization’s co-founders and current co-president. The group promotes and provides opportunities for science education by offering after-school workshops at area schools that are hands-on, interactive, and free. Making use of undergraduate volunteers, the STEM Initiative’s programming is based on student-created lesson plans. In this sense, co-president George Iwaoka ‘16, who is pursuing degrees in cell and developmental biology and financial economics, views the student group they have created as a grassroots organization that hopes to instill positive change at a local community level.

The duo, both graduates of Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, New Jersey, consider themselves fortunate for their heavy exposure to STEM fields before coming to college. Continuing on at the U of R, a leading school in both STEM education and research, Iwaoka and Yoon found the lack of educational outreach for the sciences problematic. The current substandard state of Rochester area public schools, coupled with the national decline in literacy in scientific fields, motivated the pair to create the group.

Since its initial inception in the fall of 2013, the group has evolved from a small volunteer effort to an organization recognized and funded by the Students’ Association.  Originally funded out of the pockets of its early members, the group has since grown to be able to offer regular biweekly workshops at a local school, complete with funded lesson plans and engaging activities covering subjects ranging from basic physics to computer programming. These structured workshops are planned by students and made possible through the weekly contributions of undergraduate volunteers.  The STEM Initiative currently has 36 student volunteers that have contributed to planning and teaching.

This past spring, STEM exclusively offered workshops at Adlai E. Stevenson School No. 29. “It’s not the best school in terms of math and science,” said Iwaoka.  Located in the 19th ward, School 29 ranks among the lowest in test scores in the state.  They were also cut from the list of schools visited by the university’s Partners in Reading program. The diminishing educational opportunities at this school prompted the STEM Initiative to focus its efforts there.”The kids are really bright,” said Yoon. “It’s great to see that they don’t see themselves as ‘too cool’ for science.”

One of the organization’s first efforts in event programming also turned out to be one of its largest successes.  On April 14th, the group sponsored its first Family Science Day, a free and public science fair.  STEM brought together science-affiliated student groups, area youth, and their families in the Munnerlyn Atrium of Goergen Hall for an interactive and educational experience.  Garnering support from science and engineering associated student groups, Iwaoka and Yoon were able to offer the local community a chance to explore and experience science firsthand.  The event included demonstrations and experiments from campus organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, MERT, and the Baja SAE Team among others.  Drawing in more than 300 attendees and partnering with 23 different organizations, the event was successful in its community outreach and showcase of the sciences.

Looking at the coming year, Iwaoka and Yoon aim to increase the STEM Initiative’s presence in the Greater Rochester Community.  “We really want the Rochester business community to be involved,” said Iwaoka who views the group as a potential liaison for science education.  With Rochester as a leading hub for optics, the group believes that involvement from area companies would open doors for event programming on a larger scale.

That’s not to say that STEM isn’t doing enough on its own to expand.  With more anticipated funding from the SA Government in the fall, as well as through an upcoming Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the two co-presidents hope to see the group grow to offer more workshops at other area schools and bigger community programming with plans for a “STEM Olympics” that will function as an interactive field day for science.  They also hope to branch out to inspire additional chapters at other universities.  Iwaoka aspires to see the group broaden its influence at a national level in the coming years and similarly hopes to see its message spread abroad.

Through all the responsibilities of starting and developing a student organization, the pair views their work in the past year as worth all of the stress.  “It’s really fun, and the kids are eager to learn,” said Yoon in regards to their workshops.  To her, one of the best parts of this experience has been making personal connections with students.  Similarly, Iwaoka finds value in seeing the impact that the organization’s efforts have made and is excited that he may be helping to produce the next great leaders in the STEM fields. “Somewhere down the line, our work can inspire a young student to pursue a career in science, and that in itself is rewarding.”

Hack to the Future: Rochester’s First 24-hour Hackathon

It’s a race against the clock as the hackathon participants complete as much coding and rapid prototyping as possible in 24 hours. (Photo by Jack Valinsky ’15)

By Sofia Tokar
University Communications

Computer programming is often a solitary endeavor. But humans are inherently social creatures.

So how do you engage a group of programmers in a way that’s fun and productive?

Answer: a hackathon.

Like book clubs for readers, hackathons regularly bring together computer programmers, coders, and developers with a shared love for building better software (and occasionally hardware) tools for themselves and others. Hackathons can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, and they often have an educational, social, or philanthropic bent.

In the last couple of years, Rochester’s computer science students have led the hacking movement at the University.

A brief history of the hack pack

Although the term “hacker” has negative connotations, groups like RocHack reclaim the term to mean builders and creators.

two students with laptops helping each other out

Bring your own laptop. The hackathon was held in Rettner Hall, with the first floor reserved for the hackers. (Photo by Jack Valinsky ’15)

Founded in September 2012, RocHack bills itself as “a group of hackers, engineers, builders, and friendly people who attend the University of Rochester.” Several Rochester students formed RocHack as a subset of the Computer Science Undergraduate Council (CSUG), a campus student organization.

In December 2013, the group hosted its first hackathon, an eight-hour event with the theme “Make UR Better.” The results included projects such as UR Bus Schedules (an easy way to access the campus bus schedules), Skedge (an alternative course scheduling system for the University), and Cluster Navigator (a visual tool to explore the Rochester curriculum as a graph of courses and clusters).

With the success of December’s event, the group decided it was time to hack things up a notch.

Spring into hacking action

On April 12 and 13, Rettner Hall hosted its first-ever daylong hacking gathering: the Spring 2014 RocHack Hackathon.

Computer science majors and CSUG members Steve Gattuso ’16 and Dan Hassin ’16 organized the event featuring half a dozen corporate sponsors (including Google) and more than 60 participants.

The goal? Come to the hackathon with an idea, work on it for 24 hours, complete as much coding and rapid prototyping as possible, then present the work—and potentially win prizes. Sleep is optional.

“You can bond with other people who love to build things,” says Gattuso. “It’s also a great way to learn how to code. We have a lot of experienced people who are happy to teach others.”

group of student laughing and taking around a table filled with laptops and other computer equipment

Steve Gattuso ’16 (center, plaid shirt) checks in with some of the hackers on day one. (Photo by Jack Valinsky ’15)

Participants brought their own laptops, but Gattuso and Hassin supplied plenty of workspace and food for the coders. “We wanted to encourage electrical engineers to attend, so we provided materials for hardware hacking as well,” explains Gattuso.

At 2 p.m. on Saturday, the hacking commenced.

Show and tell

After 24 hours of brainstorming, prototyping, coding, and testing, the participants presented their work.

The projects ranged from the practical to the elaborate. These included an application that generates customizable complaint emails based on how angry you are; a Reddit notification app for Chrome; a life-size interactive musical and visual tone matrix; a homemade operating system; and a distributed IRC system.

Demonstrating impressive technical know-how, these latter two projects tied for first place.

Next steps for RocHack

Gattuso and Hassin plan to hold another RocHack Hackathon next spring, and are considering making the event a semi-annual one.

“Most of the hackers this year were Rochester students,” says Hassin. “But with some more advertising and promotion, we hope to increase participation from area colleges and universities. We also want to encourage more people who are new to computer science to attend.”

As Gattuso and Hassin say, all you need is the desire to build.

student sleeping face down on the lawn

Hard day’s night: Sleep is optional at a hackathon. (Photo by Jack Valinsky ’15)

Learn more about

RocHack at http://rochack.org

Computer Science at Rochester at https://www.cs.rochester.edu

Optics Students Win $10K at Pre-Seed Workshop

For the past 10 years, High Tech Rochester’s annual Pre-Seed Workshop has provided inventors, entrepreneurs, and technology professionals with resources for quickly assessing their specific market opportunities and identifying the next steps to be taken in creating a start-up business around their technology innovation.

On Friday, Nov. 1 at the conclusion of this year’s Pre-Seed Workshop, five current and former University of Rochester Optics students found themselves the recipient of such resources. The student-driven team Ovitz was presented with the Excell Challenge Award of $10,000, given by Excell Partners, a Rochester venture capital firm.

Working with technology developed at the Flaum Eye Institute, Ovitz is hoping to commercialize a portable eye diagnosis instrument that is smaller, cheaper and more accurate than existing devices and is especially suited for use among children. They were chosen because their project was best suited to Excell’s criteria and at a point where the new venture would benefit from an outside investment.

The Ovitz team members are senior Felix Kim, junior Pedro Vallejo-Ramirez, doctoral students Aizhong Zhang and Len Zheleznyak, and Samuel Steven (’13). Both Steven and Zheleznyak are enrolled in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) master’s program.

“We congratulate Ovitz and all of the start-up innovators and entrepreneurs participating in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop and expect to hear big things from them in the future,” said Theresa Mazzullo, chief executive officer of Excell Partners, Inc. “Given our mission of providing pre-seed and seed stage financing to high-tech start-up companies in the Upstate New York region, we felt we could give a boost to the start-up idea showing the most potential for commercialization as developed and presented at this workshop.”

Designed as a hands-on program, not a lecture series, “the Pre-Seed Workshop involves highly focused activities and exercises directed toward determining if a technology-based business concept has high potential for commercial success,” says the workshop’s organizer, Mike Riedlinger, High Tech Rochester’s Technology Commercialization Manager.

More than 100 people participated in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop: 13 teams (culled down from 18 applications), including teams from the University of Buffalo, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and the Rochester community at large. The Workshop involved 32 coaches, contributors, and subject matter experts, and the six investors and industry experts who served as feedback panelists.

This isn’t the first time the Ovitz business plan has found success. It also took first place in the Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition and third place in the Mark Ain Business Model Competition this past spring. The students are now looking for NGOs who can put their device to use to benefit people in underdeveloped countries.

Article courtesy of High Tech Rochester. To read their full press release, visit http://htr.org/excell-partners-awards-10000-start-team-high-tech-rochester%E2%80%99s-annual-pre-seed-workshop

German Scholarship Offers Lessons Beyond Academics

By Alayna Callanan ’14
University Communications

Nine undergraduate students, Kristin Abramo ’15, Kevin Allan ’14, Alexandra Born ’15, Sarah Koniski ’14, Louis Papa ’14, Robert Rietmeijer ’15, Jamie Strampe ’15, Zhongwu Shi ’15, and Qianli Sun ’15, spent up to three months this summer throughout Germany with the DAAD-RISE program. The program allows undergrads to pursue research in the natural sciences and engineering with advanced doctoral students at universities and research institutions within Germany. The students conducted their research individually but many met up for weekend trips and the group convened at the annual RISE conference in Heidelberg.

Allan spent 11 weeks in Langen, Germany at the Paul Ehrlich Institute, continuing prior research on HIV, specifically studying gene therapy and vaccines preventing infection.  Allan’s research this summer led him to Dr. Harris Gelbard’s Lab at the University’s Medical Center, where his current work with neuroAIDS is a perfect culmination of his neuroscience studies, lab work, clinical interests, and research in immunology and virology. He’s hoping these experiences will help him prepare for Medical School. Allan also is currently enrolled in a German language course, and has hopes to return to Germany through the DAAD-RISE Professional Program.

DAAD-RISE 1Many students, like Allan, wish to study abroad but struggle to make the time for an entire semester abroad. As an active member on campus with a busy semester, a summer in Germany was perfect opportunity to gain an international perspective. He was able to visit many European cities including Paris, Munich, Berlin, and Amsterdam using the convenient EuroRail during his busy program. Cultural differences ranged from day to day experiences like language barriers between colleagues in the laboratory—Allan used a mix of German, English and even drawing for communication—to other experiences like a German waiter being shocked at an American male not finishing his French fries at a meal. Everywhere we travel we are faced with cultural differences as well as being representatives for our country.

Other differences Allan noticed were how the German researchers he worked with were more detail oriented, rather than focusing on the process within their research. It may have been largely in part to working at a public institution, but Allan found that the Paul Ehrlich Institute had very strict regulations, though their facilities are top-of-the-line.

Robert Rietmeijer agreed. “There is a joke that a German scientist does not begin an experiment until he has considered as many reasons to conduct it as to not conduct it,” he said.

The rigidness of experiments in Germany was not a damper for students though; Allan, Rietmeijer, and Alexandra Born were highly impressed with the research facilities. A joint human MRI-PET machine, one of just three in the world, resides at the Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research Institute at the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, where Born studied.

The students had some unconventional benefits from their time abroad. “I was able to overcome was my own speech DAAD-RISE 2impediment: I talk way too quickly,” said Born, who was forced to speak slowly so Germans and other non-native English speakers could understand her. Her family and friends noticed a difference in the pace of her speech upon her return to the States. She gained both confidence and independence during the program and is more certain in her post graduate plans to pursue pharmaceuticals.

Louis Papa, a Rochester native, feels he will be more confident going to graduate school next fall because this program forced him to adjust to a brand new environment in the city of Jena, devoid of familiar faces. Rietmeijer experienced some culture shock upon arrival but enjoyed the challenges and overall experience so much that he is considering post-doctoral studies or beginning a start-up company in Germany.

Rochester Students Compete in Engineering Competition

By Leonor Sierra
Press Officer for Engineering and Science, Univ. Communications

Two groups of Rochester students were among the 30 design teams from 18 institutions that showed off creations at the Intel Cornell Cup on May 3-4, 2013 at Walt Disney World.

One of the groups won an honorable mention for their work on the URead Braille project. Their concept was a refreshable braille display that acts as a computer screen for the blind. The braille display would be able to read in text and .pdf files and output the result on the screen through a tactile display.

The UV Swarm team modified some robots, similar to a Roomba hoover robot, incorporating a UV light that could sanitize large surfaces quicker than is currently possible.  These could be used in medical or sport facilities. They also programmed a central hub that would automatically oversee the operation so that these ‘bots’ are all synchronized with each other, ensuring the full floor is covered and limiting overlaps.

The teams worked for months on their projects, with the support of their advisers Randal Nelson, Ted Pawlicki and Chris Brown all from the Computer Science department. The teams were comprised of students from different majors, including computer science, electrical and computing engineering, and biomedical engineering, and from different years, from freshmen to seniors.

The goal of the Cornell Cup is to challenge engineering college student design teams to create embedded technology devices that address real-world needs and that might just catch an investor’s eye.

Senior Design Day Video Features UV Swarm:

The members of the teams were: Doug Miller (CSC ’15), Christina Kayastha (CSC/ECE ’14), Nate Book (CSC ’14), Ben Ouattara (CSC/ECE ’16), Samantha Piccone (CSC ’14), Erick Frank (CSC ’13), Morgan Sinko (ME ’16), Alex Kurland (CSC ’13/T5), Ben Vespone (BME ’14) and Andy Hevey (ECE ’14).

For more info about the Cornell Cup, visit http://www.systemseng.cornell.edu/engineering2/se/intel/

In the Photo: University of Rochester student design teams, UV Swarm and URead Braille, pose for a group portrait. From left to right: Doug Miller, Christina Kayastha, Nate Book, Ben Ouattara, Samantha Piccone, Eric Frank, Morgan Sinko, Ted Pawlicki, Alex Kurland, Ben Vespone, Randal Nelson, and Andy Hevey.

Sagefest 6 Pits Superhero Scientists Against Art Avengers

Spelling bees. Volleyball games. Raft races. Costume contests. No, it’s not an elementary school field day, it’s Sagefest 6. And in 2013, these activities were designed to continue the long-standing, much discussed rivalry between art and science.

On the afternoon of April 19, students from engineering and science departments (Team Science) went up against art students (Team Art) in a battle of wits, athleticism, and creativity. When the dust (or sand) settled on the volleyball court, and the last word had been spelled correctly, Team Science had racked up an impressive 141 points and Team Art lagged behind with only 95 points. As Sagefest organizer Derek Crowe ’10 said, “Team Art Lost. L-7 Style.”

Despite the fierce competition, by all accounts, the day was a success. “The weather was wonderful. We had a terrific showing and the entirety of the chocolate milk was drunk in less than 30 minutes,” said Crowe. “Costumed people were silly, yelled, ran up a hill with a boat, and threw bowling balls at unsuspecting Frisbee players.”

And so, the epic battle was won. Proof of Team Science’s victory, a motorized, rotating brain sculpture, will be on display in the biomedical engineering department office until next year, when Team Art will have a second chance to glory.

At Sagefest, the annual event organized by the Sage Art Center, printmaking students were also on hand screen-printing original designs on T-shirts and WRUR provided musical entertainment.

Crowe provides a full recap, along with photos, here: http://sageartcenter.com/2013/05/01/sagefest-a-success-artists-give-away-art/.

sagefest-4

sagefest6

 

Computer Science Undergrads Embark on Weekend of “Extreme Programming”

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

Over the weekend of March 15th, “Hacklemore”, a team of 10 undergraduate Computer Science students from the University of Rochester traveled to Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada to participate in the CS Games. The team, led by captains Julian Lunger ’14 and Emily Danchik ’13, took 7th place out of 22 teams, thanks to strong showings by the team of Charlie Lehner ’15 and  David Bang ’14 who took 2nd place in Web Development,  and the team of Dan Hassin ’16 and Joe Brunner  ’14 who took 3rd place in Extreme Programming.

CSUG-3The CS Games, an annual competition held by Canadian universities, is attended by over 300 students. Although most of the student participants are Canadian, both the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology have sent teams in recent years. In 2011, the University of Rochester team won the competition. This year, the University of Rochester was the only American university to send a team to the event.

Teams consist of a maximum of 10 people, and compete in 15 to 20 different competitions from Friday to Sunday. These competitions are in different programming areas which range from programming theory, which deals with designing algorithms,  to embedded programming, which deals with writing programs which run on small devices. In addition to the programming competitions, there also are competitions in a few unrelated areas, such as sporting competitions and even a campus-wide scavenger hunt.

Throughout the games, teams must also be on the lookout for “Puzzle Hero” challenges, which are timed “mini-games” that cover a variety of topics and are emailed to the teams at random times. During this year’s games, Team “Hacklemore” had to do everything from solving chess puzzles to identifying pictures and diagrams of obscure plugs and wires. “One challenge even had us listen to a highly modified soundfile and figure out what it meant. The file sounded like a short, high-pitched blip–but we eventually figured out that it was three consecutive Iron Maiden song outtakes,” says Captain Julian Lunger. The team also had the opportunity to participate in “Hacking Questions,” where team members were given a limited amount of time to access websites designed for the competition.

CSUG-2In addition to the challenges, the event also featured large social gatherings for all of the participants.”The social aspect is an important and sometimes surprising one at the Games. Some people typically think of CS majors as unsocial; however, the exact opposite is true at the CS Games,” says Captain Julian Lunger. “The teams of computer geeks there are fun, they are wild, and they stay up til 2, 3, 4 a.m. every night.” The Rochester team also had the opportunity to interact with Computer Science students from different backgrounds. “Meeting French-Canadian students was really cool because they have a different culture and think about things in a different way– it’s almost like they are Europeans in North America,” says Lunger.

This years roster included Emily Danchik (leader) ’13, Julian Lunger (leader, captain) ’14, Thomas Swift ’13, Emily Ansley ’14, Joe Brunner ’14, Nate Book ’14, Shuopeng Deng ’14, Dan Hassin ’16, Charlie Lehner ’15, and David Bang ’14.

The Rochester team already has next year’s competition in mind. Captain Julian Lunger encourages any interested students to contact him through email at JLunger@u.rochester.edu.

The Elusive Geomechanics Major

By Dan Wang ’14
Univ. Communications

Out of the more than 4,500 full-time undergrads at the University of Rochester, exactly three are pursuing a major in geomechanics. Just who are these brave few?

The trio is made up of very different students: a freshman from Kingston, Jamaica who emphasizes her environmentalism; a junior who went to high school in Rochester and would like to work on an oil platform or for an oilfield services company; and a Take 5 scholar from outside of New York City who would like to do fieldwork to study seismology and geothermal energy.

But first, what kind of degree are they pursuing? The bachelor of science degree in geomechanics is a program run jointly between the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. An interdisciplinary major, completing geomechanics also means taking classes in math, physics, and chemistry.  Lisa Norwood ’86, ’95, assistant dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and a former geomechenics major, describes the program this way, “The curriculum emphasizes the application of the principles of mechanics to problems associated with the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid earth.”

Kayon Ellis ’16 has not yet declared her geomechanics (geomech) major, but she’s quite set on pursuing it. Ellis comes by way of Jamaica, and this is her first year living in the United States. A commitment to environmentalism and an analysis of basin sediments in streams prior to coming to Rochester propelled her to study geomechanics. “I find the study of the earth fascinating,” says Ellis. “You just can’t study anything in isolation; you have to analyze the whole system.”

Two years ahead, Michael Grotke ’14 has different goals in mind. Grotke grew up in Tucson, Arizona and attended high school in Rochester. On campus, he works part-time for the Earth and Environmental Science Lab, and is a member of the SA Appropriations Committee. What does he see himself doing? “I hope to use this degree towards a career in the oil and natural gas industry, most likely shale-gas and crude oil exploration.” The companies he’d like to apply his geomech training to include Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and Halliburton.

Skipping two more years ahead, the final geomech major is Brian Castro ’12 (T5). Though he had a hard time deciding between studying physics and mechanical engineering, he has embraced the geomech major with vigor. Castro also has extensive experience in fieldwork. Research on geothermal energy took him to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and, as part of an NSF-sponsored program, to work at a geosciences research company in New Zealand. He also conducted seismic research at the University, in Professor Cynthia Ebinger’s lab. Castro’s interests are more academic, and he’d like to further study seismology, geothermal energy, and planetary science.

The major is robust enough to accommodate all of these interests. Dean Norwood sees no shortage of ways to use the geomech major. “Career opportunities include work with the U.S. Geological Survey and with departments of natural resources or environmental protection at the federal, state, and county levels; with the oil and mineral resources industries; and in multidisciplinary private consulting firms engaged in geological engineering.”

Rochester Joins Nine Other Universities to Explore For-Credit Online Education

By Melissa Greco Lopes
Univ. Communications

The University of Rochester has partnered with nine peer institutions to establish a consortium to explore a new, for-credit, online course program called Semester Online. The consortium is working with the company 2U (formerly known as 2tor), which was created in 2008 to develop for-credit online courses.

“As a leading research university, Rochester has a responsibility to shape and define the use of technology to enrich the academic experience for our students,” said Robert Clark, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and interim senior vice president for research. “This partnership allows us to explore the creation of online learning initiatives with peer institutions that share our mission of delivering education of the highest quality.”

VIDEO: Prof. John Covach Talks Semester Online with Marketplace

VIDEO: Undergrads Share Reaction with 13WHAM-TV

The other consortium members are Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University, and Washington University in St. Louis.

The program is intended to offer academically qualified students an expanded selection of course offerings from some of the country’s most prestigious institutions while giving them the freedom to work, travel, participate in off-campus research programs, or manage personal commitments as they pursue their academic goals. More information about Semester Online courses and the application process will likely be available in early 2013.

Semester Online is one of many approaches Rochester is considering in terms of online education. For the last several months, a University-wide taskforce led by Clark has been assessing the current and future use of technology and digital media in the classroom from traditional, to web-facilitated, to blended courses, to full online.

“Rochester’s interest in online education rests in how it can leverage technology to build connectivity between students and faculty, and how it can develop and enhance the educational experience broadly,” Clark said.

Oceanography: A new addition to Earth and Environmental Sciences

By Alayna Callanan ’14
Univ. Communications

Many students at the University of Rochester may enroll in introductory chemistry courses with no clue how the material can relate to anything they care about. But, Associate Professor John Kessler hopes his new class, EES 212: A Climate Change Perspective to Chemical Oceanography, can demonstrate how the material relates to students and help them understand the course concepts.

Kessler hopes to show students that “chemistry can be done outside a sterile chemistry lab.” Oceanography, he explains, provides tangible, real-life applications of chemistry, geology, and biology. It is a topic fairly new to the University, but since nearly 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, study of the oceans is critical to understanding climate change.

Junior Erin Hayes is pursuing a degree in the geological sciences and has been looking for this missing link ever since she took an oceanography class in high school. “I’m very excited to take a course that combines both my interests in Chemistry and Geology,” Hayes says.

Research experience is another academic component that Hayes and many other students strive to get.  Kessler is planning an exciting field trip where students will be able to conduct research themselves. The research will focus on oceanic methane, a contributor to greenhouse gases and a personal favorite of Kessler’s, and will explore the dynamics and effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Students interested in the opportunity should contact him or take his class to find out the details of the project.

Kessler previously taught oceanography at Texas A&M University and has done extensive work as chief scientist regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He normally has a limited scope of how he can study oceanic methane, but with this unfortunate accident, researchers used the opportunity to “learn how the planet functions naturally,” says Kessler. Geologic record has shown that similar situations have occurred in the past. Since no one can deliberately release at least 200,000 tons of oil and gas, this phenomenon has not been able to be replicated. Although Kessler typically studies natural events, he performed work on this because the spill was natural but accelerated, essentially. Research from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is still being analyzed. Professor Kessler hopes to introduce students to oceanography, more specifically chemical oceanography, and will tie in his personal knowledge and research to the class.

Read More: At Least 200,000 Tons of Oil and Gas from Deepwater Horizon Spill Consumed by Gulf Bacteria

Alayna Callanan ’14 is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences. She is the president of UR Rock Climbing Club and the Outing Club, is the secretary of the Undergraduate Student Geological Organization and is a member of Gamma Phi Beta.

In the Photos (courtesy of John Kessler): Professor John Kessler conducts research during his first expedition to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.