REU summer undergraduate research poster session showcases summer achievements

As summer comes to a close over 112 students from across campus and the nation met to present their work from the past 10 weeks at the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) poster session on Tuesday. Posters topics ranged from Biology to English and everything in-between.  Students who had participated in the REU programs supported by the National Science Foundation or in Summer Programs for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) supported by the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies at Texas A&M were given the opportunity to share the results of their summer research projects with peers, faculty and even Texas A&M University President, R. Bowen Loftin.

Students found this opportunity to be a vital part in their undergraduate education.  “To get to work on a research project of your own, is something cool.  It takes what you learn in class and brings it to the forefront.  You get to see how material you learn in class can relate to the real world and solve real problems,” said Ayobami Olubeko, senior computer engineering major.

Olubeko spent his summer expanding on an earlier REU project done by Texas A&M students.  He sought to update the “HaptiGo” system, a navigation system for the visually impaired that can maneuver around obstacles without the use of a white cane or service dog. Olubeko’s results showed that better sensors are needed for the system, and he is excited for the continuation of the project.

While some students took the summer to expand on what they learn in the classroom others found where their true passions lie.  “Undergraduate research has totally changed my outlook on what I want to do. It has shown me there are more options than I considered before,” said Emilee Larkin, recent Texas A&M graduate who will start veterinary school in the fall.

Larkin was a part of a SPUR project in which she studied the relationship between tiger coat color and physical abnormalities.  White tigers are among the most popular attractions in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, but often exhibit skeletal or health problems. Research to understand white tiger abnormalities are vital to their survival in captivity.  In characterizing the gene for coat color and examining the effects of inbreeding, Larkin made some promising strides in improving management of captive white tigers.  After several tissue tests and mitochondrial DNA sequencing she identified four subspecies capable of producing white cubs.  This means outbreeding from the Bengal subspecies may help diminish the health problems seen in white tigers. She hopes to work further as a veterinary student with her research advisor, Dr. Jan Janecka in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, to better characterize the genetic basis of coat color in large cats.

Although most students presented research based on the more traditional sciences, there were a few who took the summer to conduct investigations in arts and humanities. Sophomore English Honors major Madeline Keyser spent her summer sifting through primary texts once owned by J. R. R. Tolkien.  She read through several books written in German from Tolkien’s personal library to try to create links between his academic studies and fictional work. Keyser discovered an interesting connection between his thoughts on dialects and how he portrays the trolls in The Hobbit, each community having a different version of the same language.

“This summer gave me the opportunity to think differently than how I do in class.  I got to view the actual book as research, not just a text,” Keyser said.

The poster session demonstrated that undergraduates at Texas A&M are actively exploring the world around them. Whether they are collecting insects, cloning genes, synthesizing complex molecules, building computer models, developing astronomical instruments, climbing through Costa Rican cloud forests, or turning pages of century old books these students spent their summer discovering new ways to apply classroom knowledge to the real world.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu

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