Students creating solutions: Summer research 2017
All summer the Thomas Family Health & Science Center has been bustling with activity as students and professors conduct research to make advancements in their field of study. From analyzing forest fire damages to designing a satellite printed in space by NASA, students have been busy pioneering new areas of study and making breakthroughs in computer science, biology, chemistry and engineering.
“We’re gaining the real life experience of working in an actual work environment and learning new technologies. What we are doing here is very cutting edge,” commented junior computer science major Nick Hamilton. Nick is a part of the computer science team working with the Boise Forest Service to develop FireMAP. FireMAP provides data about fire damage to help create a more effective fire recovery plan.
In the Department of Biology, teams worked hard to make discoveries in three areas: Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles’ effect on Pseudomonas aeruginosa’s growth, human and mink uterine lining behavior, and Costa Rican frog bioacoustics. Some students also worked on individual projects coinciding with the primary topics such as discovering potentially fluorescing frogs.
Lauren Gould and Abi Haas researched mink and human uterine lining to create a model of glycolysis to identify risk factors and therapeutic targets for infertility in the first trimester of pregnancy. When asked how the experience will help in their future, Lauren replied, “Being exposed to the actual process of science. We’re working on research where we have to solve real problems, and it will help a lot of people.”
Abi added, “And in a tangible way, learning a lot of techniques. I am interested in cell culture for future research, and I’m very confident I can do it. We have mastered many of the techniques we would need.”
Partnering with the biology team studying ZnO nanoparticles and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the Department of Chemistry researched the synthesis, characterization, and toxicology of ZnO nanoparticles. Students from this department also researched nickel oxide nanoparticles, studied nanoparticles’ effect on the degradation of organic dyes, and created more efficient solar panels in a project funded by NASA.
“Why should you care?” said junior Phil Gwin when asked about his NiO nanoparticle study. “Besides the fact that nanoparticles are already used in a wide variety of products including sunscreens, cosmetics, and some kinds of medicine without being fully understood, we hope to one day be able to engineer nanoparticles specifically to target certain kinds of cells or even to modify the expression of one’s DNA in order to help fight genetic diseases.”
Partnering with Made in Space and NASA, the Department of Engineering and Physics had their heads in the stars this summer with their CubeSat projects MakerSAT-0, MakerSAT-1, and RFTSat. The MakerSat-1 project resulted in NNU’s cube satellite components to be the first 3D printed on the International Space Station! Contrasting with their aerospace projects, students also worked on IdaBOT—a low-cost, autonomous utility robot to assist Idaho specialty-crop growers in the day-to-day maintenance and harvesting of their crops.
In addition to the large projects, some seniors completed capstone projects this summer. One senior project entailed creating gasifiers in Liberia. After returning from Africa, senior Levi Sligar said, “I have a more well-rounded mindset when looking at the world, and I'll always have this experience in the back of my mind when I work on other projects as an engineer; I'll keep an eye out for processes and technologies that can be applied to other communities in need.”
As the semester begins, these projects will continue into the school year and the experiences will continue to challenge students as they make advancements in their field of study. As junior biology major Austin Reich remarked, “My favorite part about doing research is discovering what nobody has discovered before. I am always incredibly grateful for such an experience that is unknown to many students my age.”