Nearly 300 students from six states and the District of Columbia traveled to UMBC this October to present their work at the 22nd Undergraduate Research Symposium for the Chemical and Biological Sciences. The symposium consistently draws a large and diverse group of students and mentors for a judged research poster competition, professional development workshops, and a plenary research presentation. The event, which is organized by UMBC’s College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (CNMS) and supported by Sheppard Mullin, also offers students the chance to network with their future colleagues and strengthen their identities as scientists.
“What you’re really doing here is building a scholarly community. At the end of today you will be a better scientist,” shared CNMS Dean Bill LaCourse, in his opening remarks. “Talk to each other,” he encouraged the students. “You never know who will be standing next to you when you accept your Nobel Prize.”
Student posters covered a broad array of research topics, from improving tools for DNA analysis to making more affordable biofuels.
Ryan Santilli and Jack Williamson from Penn State developed a low-cost DNA ladder—a set of short pieces of DNA of known lengths that researchers use to measure and identify their own unknown DNA fragments. Danielle Guillen from Monmouth University demonstrated a low-cost, easy-to-use technique for deactivating harmful bacteria while leaving associated DNA intact. James Madison University’s Kendahl Ott is working on understanding a protein mutation that causes heart failure with limited warning signs. Makhalia Aiken discussed her work at Hood College to improve the affordability of biofuels. Cierra Wiggins is working with the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Science to test techniques for detecting fingerprints on gloves found at crime scenes—a form of evidence DC courts just started accepting in 2018.
Professional development workshops offered by UMBC faculty and staff covered career pathways in the life sciences, ethics for scientists, and communicating science beyond traditional academic channels. Professor Jeff Leips discussed his research on the relationship between genetics and how animals age in an engaging plenary talk in the afternoon.
In wrapping up a busy day, Dean LaCourse reminded the students, “What you do is very noble.” As they headed back to their home universities, he wanted them to always remember, “You persevere through failure to contribute to a body of knowledge that helps society.”
LaCourse compared science to pointillism, an artistic style where an artist combines many distinct, small dots to form a complete image. He reflected, “You’re all adding your dot to increase what we can see collectively with science.”
To learn more about this event, please contact Caitlin Kowalewski, assistant director for undergraduate initiatives in CNMS.
Photo: Student volunteers help participants get checked in for the symposium. Photo and story by Sarah Hansen, M.S. '15.