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Undergraduates present research at state Capitol

Jan. 29, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- The halls of the state Capitol on Thursday may have been the only place where one could get schooled about the photochemistry of chlorinated hydrocarbons or radial basis function approximation methods.

Presentations on those topics and dozens more were part of the seventh annual Undergraduate Research Day at the Legislature.

More than 100 students from 14 colleges and universities participated in the annual event, which is organized by Marshall University chemistry professor Michael Castellani and a handful of other professors across the state. Twenty-six students represented Marshall.

Castellani said the event allows students to disseminate their research findings to an audience that otherwise would not see their work.

"This requires them to think about their Capstone projects in a larger context and to be able to express themselves to a non-expert audience," he said. "They can talk about their experiences directly and unfiltered, and in doing so describe the joy of learning in ways that most of us forget over time."

Some of the students said the payoff for them is presenting their findings to an audience other than their peers and professors. Doing so hones your communication skills and makes you think about your project in ways you never have before, said Chad Pyles, a Marshall senior.

Pyles' research examined the relationship between bars and violent crime in Huntington. He said he didn't have much difficulty presenting his project at a professional conference last year, but found Wednesday to be more challenging.

"You have to cut through the jargon and find the true meaning of your research," he said.

Laurel Ackison, a Marshall senior from Fayetteville, said the event is good practice for fine-tuning her research presentation.

"You can be a great researcher and have brilliant findings, but if you can't communicate it's worthless," she said.

Ackison drew interest from a diverse audience for her research on fresh-water mussels.

Measuring and analyzing their soft tissues, which act as a filter and can eradicate bacteria and algae from streams, usually requires the lethal method of cracking open their shell, she said. That's no longer an ideal practice, as six of the 48 species in West Virginia are on the federal endangered species list, she said.

Her research found that one can estimate the mass of soft tissues in mussels by measuring shell dimensions.

"Someone from the Department of Agriculture stopped by and was interested in the fact that they can clean up streams," Ackison said.

Grants awarded

Grants were awarded Thursday as part of Undergraduate Research Day, an annual event at the State Capitol highlighting research projects conducted by college and university students from around the state.

Grants, listed by institution, award amount and principal investigator, were awarded to:

Research Trust Fund: Concord University, $100,000, President Gregory Aloia; and West Liberty University, $100,000, President Robin Capehart.

Instrumentation Grants: Glenville State College, $19,980, Dr. Sara Sawyer; Wheeling Jesuit University, $16,988, Dr. Andy Cook; West Virginia Wesleyan College, $20,000, Dr. Jeanne Sullivan; and West Virginia University Institute of Technology, $19,909, Dr. Nan Wang.

Innovation Grants: Shepherd University, $40,000, Dr. Jeffrey Groff; and West Virginia Wesleyan College, $40,000, Dr. Timothy Troyer.

Governor's School for Math and Science: National Youth Science Foundation, $115,000, Dr. Andy Blackwood; and West Virginia University, $115,000, Dr. Keith Garbutt.

West Virginia IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence: Alderson-Broaddus College, $125,000 per year for three years, Dr. Yi Chen; West Liberty University, $125,000 per year for three years, Dr. Jarrett S. Aguilar; West Virginia State University, $125,000 per year for three years, Dr. Rob Harris; West Liberty University, $125,000 per year for three years, Dr. Robert Kreisberg; Wheeling Jesuit University, $125,000 per year for three years, Dr. Robert Shurina; Alderson-Broaddus College, $25,000, Dr. Haitao Luo; Bethany College, $12,500, Dr. Dan Phillips; Bluefield State College, $75,000, Dr. Tesfaye Belay; Concord University, $25,000, Dr. Darrell Crick; University of Charleston, $10,000, Dr. Rebecca Linger; University of Charleston, $12,000, Dr. Michelle Herdman; University of Charleston, $12,750, Dr. Shawn Jones; University of Charleston, $14,052, Dr. Gagan Kaushal; University of Charleston, $15,000, Dr. Dean Reardon; University of Charleston, $15,000, Dr. Aladin Siddig; West Virginia State University, $14,596, Dr. Gerald Hankins; West Virginia Wesleyan College, $28,845, Dr. Melanie Sal; West Virginia Wesleyan College, $50,000, Drs. Timothy Troyer and Luke Huggins; and West Virginia Wesleyan College, $50,000, Dr. Luke Huggins.

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