June 3, 2009
WOOSTER, Ohio - Classes may be over until the fall, but the learning continues in earnest this summer at The College of Wooster. Approximately 50 students and close to two dozen faculty mentors are participating in a range of research ventures, some of which will culminate in Independent Study projects, Wooster's nationally acclaimed senior thesis program.
In geology, for example, Professor Greg Wiles has been directing rising seniors Kelly Aughenbaugh and Colin Mennett on several different projects, including efforts to date historic structures in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The students, whose work is funded by the College's Center for Entrepreneurship, are coring logs from these buildings and comparing the ring patterns with existing data to determine the approximate age of the structure, some of which date back to the Revolutionary War days. He will also oversee Aughenbaugh's work on iceberg-calving glaciers later this month when the two travel to Glacier Bay, Alaska, along with Mennett, who will try to understand why Cedar trees are dying along the coast of that state. Aughenbaugh and Mennett are two of eight geology majors conducting research this summer.
"It's great to be able to really focus on your research and not have to worry about classes, papers, and exams," said Aughenbaugh. "In the summer you have more time and energy to concentrate on your projects."
In physics, 12 students will be working on a range of projects, including two incoming first-year students who will be exposed to the research process by rising senior Heather Moore, a physics major who plans to teach high school physics and wants to observe ways to integrate research with teaching. Professors Susan Lehman, John Lindner, and Don Jacobs will also oversee research projects by students in Wooster's Research for Undergraduates (REU) program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. Projects range from hands-on lab experiments on optical cavity ring-down or electrical conduction through a mixture of conducting and non-conducting spheres, to computational projects exploring the chaotic orbit and escape of a satellite interacting with the Earth and Sun or perturbing the fabric of spacetime with general relativity.
Other research is being conducted in psychology, biology, and chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular biology. Ten of the projects are funded through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), including four in biochemistry and molecular biology, which are being supervised by Professor Cate Fenster.
The largest group of summer scholars are members of the Applied Mathematics Research Experience (AMRE), which is directed by John Ramsay, professor of mathematics at Wooster who founded the program in 1994. A total of 17 students are spread out across seven projects, including Hannah Roberts, a rising sophomore from Austintown, Ohio, who will be working on the perplexing Tarski circle-squaring problem. "This is a great way to get experience doing research," said Roberts. "It's much more useful than other ways I could be spending the summer."
There are also four non-science research projects taking place in four disciplines: religious studies, political science, English, and communication sciences and disorders.
Summer is an ideal time to conduct research, according to Lehman, who recently organized an ice cream social so that students from different disciplines could come together and meet one another. "This is a time when we can spend eight hours a day in the lab without being distracted by other things," she said. "For 10 weeks, our students will immerse themselves in research, which provides excellent training and actually allows them to become practicing scientists."
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