Optics “Focuses” Efforts to Defeat Physics in Photon Cup

Members of the Optics Department focused their efforts on the soccer field to defeat members of the Physics Department in the third annual Photon Cup.

A match between Optics and Physics, the Photon Cup features undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty from each department in a friendly rivalry to name the best department of the year.

And, while Physics might have thought their knowledge of buckminster fullerenes would lead them to the win, the control of this particular soccer “buckyball” proved too much. Perhaps it was one group of atoms they couldn’t control with much “coherence.”

Optics triumphed over the department 4-3, coming back from a 3-0 half-time deficit. After some tactical adjustments at halftime, Optics went into an “excited state” and was able to control the run of play in the second half.

By all accounts Steve Gillmer of Optics was athlete of the match, scoring twice. One goal was a brilliant 30-yard half-volley.

Physics has yet to hoist the Cup with Optics winning the past 2 years and the first contest ending in a draw.

Watch Highlights from the 2012 Photon Cup

Undergrad Research Recognized at National Conference

By Dan Wang ’14
Univ. Communications

In the last week of January, four Rochester undergraduates traveled to Harvard University to give a presentation at the National College Research Conference. The four participants created posters of their research and presented to panels of judges. Student Anaise Williams ’13 took home an Award of Excellence, the second place prize awarded to five out of 250 student presenters and is the top prize for the social sciences.

“I examined how rural low-income pregnant women in Northeastern Thailand negotiate traditional beliefs of prenatal precaution and biomedical prenatal recommendation. I really wanted to figure out how pregnancy is culturally scripted. How do people decide between listening to their moms and doctors?” says Williams, winner of the Award of Excellence.

This is a natural topic for someone who majors in anthropology with a focus on public health and has an interest in Asian culture. Williams conducted her research as she studied abroad in Thailand last spring. By taking part in the CIEE Development and Globalization Program arranged through Rochester’s Center for Study Abroad and Interdepartmental Programs, Williams conducted interviews with Thai women to determine how they reconciled traditional and modern views of pregnancy.

“This is an interesting way to investigate how global forms of information are understood at the local level,” Williams explains. “The project adds to the anthropological discussion of how to make biomedical globalization more culturally conscious.” She concludes that the women have a Western and traditional hybrid view of pregnancy in which they have autonomy over their bodies and incorporate traditional Thai views of pregnancy. Her extensive fieldwork interviewing pregnant women through translators gave her a nuanced view of the topic.

Alisa-Johnson-'14-and-URMC-Research-Mentor-Dr.-S-VijayakumarAlong with fellow undergraduates Alisa Johnson ‘14, Siddhi Shah ‘14, and Shilpa Topudurti ‘14, Williams attended the three-day conference with 250 students from around the country. Through funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research and various academic departments, the students were able to present their research to peers and students. They also were able to listen to professors discuss their own work; lecturers this year included development economist Jeffrey Sachs and psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker.

“I learned a lot from the keynote speakers and was exposed to a variety of topics from fellow presenters from all over the country,” says Alisa Johnson. “It was a great opportunity to connect and network with other students who share a similar interest in research at the undergraduate level.”

Johnson, Shah, and Topudurti are biology majors who presented on topics ranging from kidney disease to melanoma progression.

Shilpa-Topudurti-'14These four participants condensed their findings into 15-minute presentations and a poster board. Each gave a presentation to panels of judges that included professors and their fellow peers. A second, more formal presentation determined the prizes.

The Award of Excellence prize comes as a capstone for an already accomplished academic career. Outside of her major in anthropology Williams is president of the Undergraduate Anthropology Council; a coordinator at GlobeMed; and a tutor for 5th grade students at School 29, an elementary school in the 19th Ward. And she sees her project going still further; Williams is working on fellowships that will allow her to study maternal health in Asia next year.

NCRC-2013-participants

In the Photos: First: Anaise Williams ’13 and Siddhi Shah ’14 at the National College Research Conference.  Second: Alisa Johnson ’14 and URMC Research Mentor Dr. S. Vijayakumar discuss Johnson’s research with conference participants. Third: Shilpa Topudurti ’14 presents her research during the conference. Fourth: Held at Harvard, nearly 250 students from around the country attended the National College Research Conference.  All photos courtesy of Alisa Johnson.

Research Trip to Tanzania an ‘Outrageous Opportunity’

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

Eli Witkin ’13, a geology major at the University of Rochester, recently returned from a research trip to Africa where he worked with a group led by Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Cynthia Ebinger to install seismic monitoring devices in a variety of locations across rural Tanzania.

Witkin became interested in geology after taking an introductory course on a whim his freshman year. After enrolling in more advanced courses, he began to take part in research, working in Professor Ebinger’s lab this past summer. This is where Witkin was given the opportunity to accompany Professor Ebinger on her research trip to Africa.

The seismometers Ebinger and Witkin installed record data about the variations in time, amplitude, and wavelength of sound waves generated by local and global earthquakes and volcanic gas emissions, which is extraordinarily useful in probing Earth structures. The goal of this project was to use the data gathered by these devices to better understand the mechanisms of continental breakup and the effect of magma intrusions, help monitor potential hazards caused by volcanoes and earthquakes, and advise the Tanzanian government on the potential for geothermal energy.

The group would wake up before sunrise every day to pack the car and begin the trek on rural, unpaved roads to the remote locations where they wanted to place the sensors. “When we would get to a location we would locate either the headmaster of the school or the leader of the village,” Witkin says. “Then we would discuss with them (through our driver who would translate) what we were doing and if it would be ok to install a station.  They were almost always very helpful and willing.”

The group would begin tEli1he process of installing the sensor by digging a hole, pouring cement in the bottom, and placing a tile over it so that there was a hard, level surface to place the sensor. The group then assembled the solar panel support and the GPS, hooked up the equipment and tested the battery to ensure everything was connected. The device was programmed using an iPod Touch, as the sensors were controlled through an iOS application. Once it was confirmed the sensor was working properly, the group worked to fill in the hole and cover it with a tarp to deter rain, and place the rest of the equipment (battery, power box, extra cables, and Data Acquisition System) in a covered plastic tub on the surface.

“When the site was completed, we would negotiate a price to pay the residents of the school or village to guard the site by building a thorn fence around it to ensure that kids or animals would not bother it,” Witkin explained. “We would then deliver books and posters on earthquakes and volcanoes to help support science education. Then we would get in the car, travel to another site and repeat the entire process. We averaged about two sites per day. ”

This schedule turned out to be very demanding, with the team working 16-hour days for a week and a half straight. On top of the exhausting schedule, the team also had to deal with 100 degree heat, frequent dust storms, and swarms of flies. Despite this, Witkin describes the trip as overwhelmingly positive. “Driving from site to site was basically a safari,” Witkin says. “We would frequently see antelope, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, baboons, ostriches and all sorts of other birds and animals everywhere.”

The backdrop to the area was a basin that rose to the East so gradually it seemed flat, but on the western side had a 1000 meter sheer cliff that was almost vertical and ran farther than the eye could see in either direction. For a geologist, Witkin says, the natural environments were absolutely amazing. “There were numerous volcanoes and the normal rocks lying Eli4around are better samples than the ones we have in the teaching labs.”

Traveling to remote areas of Tanzania, the team had the opportunity to meet the villagers who lived in these extremely rural areas. “I was the first white person a lot of the children had seen.  Some were very curious and would run towards me while others were straight up scared out of their minds and when I smiled at them, they would run in the other direction,” Witkin recalls.

Usually at a station the team would cut off the bottom of the equipment buckets so the water can drain out.  At one station, Witkin picked up the bottom of the bucket and taught the kids how to play Frisbee with it.  “It was a really fun and novel experience playing Frisbee with the children of these rural villages.”

“Being able to do undergraduate research is an outrageous opportunity.  Not only did I get to go to Africa for a month, but I got to be there doing work that I love,” Witkin says. “Beyond that, it is invaluable to have real experience working in the field.  It’s one thing to know how to use a sensor, but a completely different thing to be comfortable using them in the field and to know how to go through a complete installation.”

On this trip, Witkin also learned how to improvise when something goes wrong. “How do you adjust when you encounter a problem and are already behind schedule and can’t afford to come back? That experience and knowledge is something you just can’t get in the classroom or lab and it will really put me ahead.”

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Meliora Leader Tackles Smoking Cessation

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Sanah Ali ’13 is part of an initiative to tackle smoking, one of America’s most controversial, decades-long health issues, as part of the Meliora Leaders Program at the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL).  Ali is working with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Healthy Living Center (HLC) to help conduct a five year follow-up study to the Smoker’s Health Project, which includes advising patients interested in quitting smoking and recruiting those interested in services at the clinic.

The tobacco program offered by the HLC is free for U of R employees and allows smokers to meet with a doctor or a psychologist.  Program participants undergo a health evaluation and are given a doctor-prescribed “quit plan” of personalized and some not-so-obvious methods to quit smoking, in addition to medications that aid withdrawal symptoms if necessary.

“We find out about U of R employees who smoke via a voluntary personal health assessment.” says Ali.  “Helping them come in is the first hurdle. Often people wait for indications of decimating health before seeking help.”

For Ali, one of the hardest parts of her work has been broaching the subject of smoking with potential program participants. “It’s not like you can go up to someone and ask if they want to quit smoking,” says Ali. “Some people find it rude or may not want to be identified as smokers. Helping people in a polite and effective way is what I’m aiming for.”

On the other hand, Ali’s favorite part of the experience has been hearing the life stories and unique experiences (struggles and successes) with tobacco of the patients she works with.

One thing that surprised Ali was the strong stigma against medications recommended to help people quit.  As a result, she hopes to “increase awareness that although meds may have side effects or may add to concerns about dependence, these meds are not addictive and are for temporary use. The adverse effects of continuing to smoke overshadow any side effects of meds.”

Ali is intrigued by the biopsychosocial model of medicine developed at Rochester decades ago by Drs. George Engel and John Romano and hopes to incorporate aspects of it in the future as a practicing physician.

“The biopsychosocial model exemplifies the concept of holistic patient care, and points out that intrinsic motivation, living situation, lifestyle, support from family or friends, and mental health affect the likelihood of a long-lasting quit,” says Ali. “There’s only so much that a health care practitioner can do.”  In addition, Ali explains, “If someone smokes and everyone else in the environment does too, it’s going to be a lot tougher for them to quit because of the constant reminder.”

Ali also explains that there is increasing evidence for interplay between factors affecting smoking habits. For example, we know that caffeine stays in your system 40 percent longer when you’re not smoking and can increase anxiety and nicotine cravings; as a result, patients are advised to reduce their caffeine intake when they are trying to quit smoking.  Other unpopular side effects of smoking cessation include experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms or weight gain due to changes in metabolism.

Ali, a Pittsford, N.Y. native and a cell and developmental biology major, hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and continue her involvement with smoking cessation. She intends to expand her work to free clinics, including “UR Well,” a clinic for uninsured patients and “UR Street Medicine” for the homeless population. She also is interested in promoting tobacco awareness at primary schools. In addition to her efforts in Rochester, Ali has travelled to Islamabad, Pakistan to study the smoking habits of high school students there.

Ali is one of five students accepted to the Meliora Leaders Program for the 2012-2013 academic year. The program, offered through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL), gives undergraduates the chance to create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.

This article is part three of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at http://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.

Tongue Twisters Topic of Students’ Studies

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

Former University of Rochester students Catie Hilliard ’10  and Katrina Furth ’10 recently saw two research papers written during their undergraduate studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and Frontiers in Psychology. Working with Florian Jaeger, Wilmot Assistant Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Furth and Hilliard examined how word choice is affected by phonological overlap, or how the sounds of words affect how we choose them in everyday conversation.

Furth became interested in the field of brain and cognitive sciences because she wanted to research psychiatric disorders and how the brain creates perceptions and thoughts. “I was inspired by a family member who dealt with episodes of mental illness to understand how normal brains work and develop in the hopes that we may be able to prevent serious mental illness someday,” she explained.  

As an undergraduate student working part time at Tim Horton’s, Furth sought out undergraduate research opportunities in the hopes of doing something with her summer that was more meaningful and relevant to her studies. She was referred to Michael Tanenhaus, who hired her to create videos that would be used in psycholinguistics experiments.

For one of her projects, Furth worked with Susan Cook to study people’s gestures as they described videos to their friends. “As we were making the videos, I noticed that people were using the verbs ‘hand’ and ’give’ at different frequencies to describe videos in which one character passes a gift or a hat to another character.”

This is where the idea for their project was born. “Dr. Jaeger had just joined the University and I started discussing my idea with him. He offered to continue paying me to figure out what was going on,” she said. “I was particularly curious to know if people avoided repeating the same initial syllables if they had the choice. No one knew whether people naturally avoided tongue twisters, though.”

The initial goal of the project was to examine if people avoid phonological overlaps (“hand hammer,” for example) when planning sentences. The project quickly expanded to include word order, speech rate, and fluency to see if people “strategically” avoid sentence constructions that may make them less fluent. “One idea that always really excited me was that we could make these choices without consciously thinking them through – people speak at about 3 syllables per second and so we certainly were not stopping to choose the best words,” she explains. “I was also really excited by the idea that information about how words will be produced can affect things that we think of as getting planned early – you choose your words and the sentence structure before you retrieve all of the sounds, right? Well, the whole premise of this work was that the sounds of words are getting accessed so early that they are affecting which words even get chosen, and in which order you produce those words.”

VIDEO: See a video clip used in the research study

Furth was tasked with designing the experiment, creating the videos that would be used to test the subjects, recruiting and testing subjects, and instructing other undergraduates on how to annotate the collected utterances. Once the data was collected, Furth sought Jaeger’s help to calculate statistics on word frequency. “I learned a great deal about experiment design and data analysis by working on this project. Since I had never designed an experiment before, I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, but the biggest piece that I learned about experiments is that one extra hour of planning before you start can save 40 hours of careful analysis at the end of the experiment.” Jaeger, Furth, and Hilliard found that speakers are less likely to choose words that result in phonological overlap, and that this tendency is based on early effects on lexical selection rather than later corrective processes.

About a year and a half into the project, Hilliard joined the team as they began to design more experiments looking at word order and fluency when the words shared similar endings instead of similar onsets. “That was the most fun/weird part of it — having an idea in your head and trying to come up with a way to test it,” Hilliard said.

BCS-Research-2Hilliard had been on track to complete a major in linguistics, but after a family member experienced a stroke which resulted in a loss of nearly all language abilities, she became increasingly interested in brain and cognitive sciences. “Suddenly, all of these cognitive processes that I had taken for granted seemed so complex and laborious. I wanted to learn more about cognition, how it develops, and the neural structure underlying these abilities.”

Hilliard combined her interests to pursue a concentration in psycholinguistics within the BCS department. After taking a psycholinguistics class with Jaeger, she worked as an assistant in his lab for the summer. This experience with the research process led her to join Furth and Jaeger’s project for the following year.

Both Furth and Hilliard refer to their research with Jaeger as one of the most valuable experiences of their undergraduate career. “I was particularly blessed to have an opportunity to pursue my own research idea as an undergraduate, present the work at international conferences, and be an author on multiple manuscripts,” Furth says. “My mentor, Florian, also sent me to the Yucatan peninsula to help collect data working with native Mayan speakers. These were once-in-a-lifetime experiences as I navigated the world in Spanish and attempted to do basic research in rare languages.”

Furth said the research experiences were pivotal in the graduate school admission process. “I believe that these experiences, and the letters of recommendations that came from them, were the major reason that I was accepted by 12 of 14 graduate schools to which I applied.”

Hilliard has similarly positive things to say about her experience. “Before I had even realized I wanted to continue doing research in graduate school, working in a lab gave me a sense of responsibility and independence that I didn’t always feel for my classwork,” she said. “I became really invested in the projects I was working on. I thought about them a lot, and learned how to communicate my research ideas to other people.”

Like Furth, Hilliard said that conducting research as an undergraduate prepared her for graduate school. “I felt confident in my abilities, and continued to feel supported by Florian, Katrina, and other members of the lab. When I applied for admission, several lab members shared their own experiences and advice, and I ended up in the best program for my research interests.”

Jaeger also emphasized the importance of having Furth and Hilliard in his lab. “Katrina was the first RA I hired six years ago. It was wonderful having Caitie and Katrina in the lab, I got lucky,” he says. “I hope that the University will continue to expand their support for undergraduate research and that we can strike a balance between providing research opportunities for undergraduates and all the other responsibilities of faculty. I think it’s one of the most appealing properties of a place like Rochester that you can actually get your feet wet and get involved in research.”

Katrina Furth (Pictured top right with Professor Florian Jaeger) is now enrolled in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience at Boston University, and is working at the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Andres Buonanno. She is examining the role of the dopamine D4 receptor in modulating cognitive ability and neural network oscillations called gamma rhythms. “Children with an allelic variant of the D4 receptor are more likely to have ADHD and many antipsychotic medications target this receptor as well as others. I am recording from individual neurons using patch-clamp electrophysiology.”

Caitie Hilliard (pictured bottom left) received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for her work with Dr. Susan Cook, a full scholarship for three years of graduate study in the University of Iowa Psychology department under Dr. Cook, a former Post-Doc at the University of Rochester. Hilliard is studying the role of hand gesture in communication, focusing on how speakers modulate their gestures based on the shared information they have with their listeners. She has run two studies examining how speakers’ gestures change when they know that their listener lacks task-relevant information, and is currently investigating how the listeners’ perception of these gestures affects their own cognition.

Article written by Blake Silberberg, an intern with University Communications and a member of the Piggies. He is a senior majoring in political science.

Small Insects Have Sizable Influence on Rochester Senior

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

In one of the many science labs that make up Hutchinson Hall, there is a room full of thousands of different species of Drosophila, or as most people know them, fruit flies. This is where Yelstin Fernandes ’13, a biology major at the University of Rochester, has been participating in ongoing intercellular transport research as an undergraduate member of the Welte Lab.

The Welte Lab studies the process of how different items are transported throughout cells. Their research hopes to discover the mechanisms by which cells control the specificity, timing, and destination of this transport by studying these qualities in the Drosophila embryo.

Fernandes contacted Dr. Welte after taking a class with him during his sophomore year, looking to participate in ongoing biology research here at the university. For almost two years, Fernandes has been undertaking an independent study with the Welte Lab, examining two proteins, Wech and Halo, which are involved in regulating the movement of lipids during the development of the Drosophila embryo. To accomplish this, Fernandes characterizes various strains of flies and determines their genotype based on defining attributes, such as whether their wings are straight or curled when examined under a microscope. Fernandes then isolates the flies with the genotypes he is interested in examining, and crosses them in order to examine the embryos of their progeny. His research helps to clarify expected results, and in some cases discover unexpected attributes. This past summer, Fernandes discovered an anomaly in a sequence of Halo protein mutations, where instead of a mutation; there was an entire deletion of a gene segment.

For Fernandes, the study of biology is something he has been interested in pursuing since childhood. “I was always intrigued by simple things like why some people had blue eyes, or how blood clotted. The answers I got, albeit basic, were always so interesting to me because I could see the science visibly in my own life.”

After being accepted into the University in 2009, Fernandes decided to enroll because of the opportunity to participate in research as an undergraduate. “During my time here, I’ve been able to satisfy a lot of the same basic curiosities I’ve had since childhood, but with much more detail,” he explained. “Through studying biology I currently have a much deeper appreciation for the profound beauty and complexity of the world we live in.”

According to Fernandes, participating in hands-on research has been one of the defining experiences of his academic career. “Undergraduate study is very much a basic overview of certain topics. Being in a lab exposes you to a very specialized and narrow study. I’ve learned so much just by sitting in on lab meetings. Initially, just the words thrown around had me incredibly confused, but now I feel I have a much better understanding of the topics that are being researched.”

Fernandes also credits his research experience for showing him to how graduate research is undertaken in the laboratory environment. “Being able to do an independent study has definitely exposed me to all the work that goes on in the research world, from writing, researching, and presenting in front of people,” he said. “I’ve also gotten to understand what science research really is. Basically it’s about setting up experiments, failing a lot, and then coming up with a solution once in a while. I have a much greater appreciation for certain scientists and experiments you hear about in class and the ingenuity involved in problem solving.”

Article written by Blake Silberberg, an intern with University Communications and a member of the Piggies. He is a senior majoring in political science.

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.

A Vision Scientist In The Making

By Blake Silberberg
Univ. Communications

Aaron Levi, a brain and cognitive sciences (BCS) major and current senior at the University of Rochester, is taking part in exciting research being done at the Flaum Eye Institute in the University’s Medical Center. Levi works with Dr. Krystal Huxlin on research to develop rehabilitation techniques for individuals who have lost visual perception due to stroke.

Read More About Rochester’s Vision Scientists

Levi became interested in BCS after taking the introductory courses in his freshman year. “I thought all of the course material was so interesting and often so relevant to everyday life,” he says. “It was really amazing to see how important your brain is to every function of your body and mind, and how it can build such complex behaviors from such basic functions.”

Levi became involved in research after attending a job fair and reaching out to his professors for information about ongoing projects. Before joining his current lab, Levi had the opportunity to work in a glial cell lab that focused on molecular neuroscience. “The University has such a large amount of research happening, which makes it pretty easy to try things out and find your own interests,” he explains. “Being able to participate in different types of specialized research within neuroscience has been an extremely valuable experience and allowed me to find where my own interests lie.”

Currently, Levi’s role involves testing the rehabilitation techniques on volunteers, and analyzing the effectiveness of the training programs. The program involves testing the subjects on simple visual stimuli, such as moving dots and bars. These exercises are conducted repeatedly throughout a training program, where Levi collects and analyzes how the subject’s responses improve over time. Additionally, the lab uses fMRI equipment to help map out the visual processing activity occurring in the subject’s brain.

After graduation this year, Levi hopes to continue to work in BCS research while applying to graduate programs. “Participating in research as an undergraduate has let me apply the things I’ve learned in class in a hands-on manner,” he says. “Learning new lab techniques also has given me an advantage in classes, and will certainly be valuable in applying for a graduate degree.”

Article written by Blake Silberberg, an intern at University Communications and a member of the Piggies. Silberberg is a senior majoring in political science. Photos courtesy of Aaron Levi.

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.