The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 15 • Number 1 • Winter 1998

 

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UNDERGRAUDATE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES PROGRAM


Jeremy Dohm checks the electronic circuit in an instrument detector

Enormous ice sheets are responsible for sculpting the physical geographic terrain that we see today. It would be amazing to see a model showing how these glaciers moved across Canada and the United States. Donna Gunderson, UMD Geology alumna and current graduate student at the University of Maryland, says she demonstrated glacier activity during the Ice Age using an unusual substance--Silly Putty. According to Gunderson, Silly Putty has the same density and flow rate as a glacier. Gunderson should know, she was one of the students in UMD's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), and she knows more about glaciers than the average geology student, undergraduate and graduate!

Since the mid-1980's, UMD's undergraduate experience has been a leader among colleges and in 1988 the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program was established at UMD. UROP has provided the opportunity for undergraduate students to explore their fields of interest in a research situation and discover what UMD has to offer outside of the classroom.

At UMD, the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) has received a number of UROP awards. Since 1988, they have represented about half of the campus with UROP students each academic year. During the 1995-96 academic school year, 53 out of 137 UROP students at UMD received the award in CSE totaling $57,300 in awards for all the departments within that college alone. "UROP is a cornerstone of our program," said Tim Holst, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering.

Working in a UROP is more complex than just doing outside research. Regardless of the academic department, it requires a detailed application process in order for the student to be approved and awarded UROP funds. Students can usually obtain the application package from their college office. They can apply for UROP    in the spring and fall and usually students take between three to nine months to finish their research.

Once the application is approved, UROP funding will pay the student a stipend wage. In addition, the student receives money for expenses directly related to completing the project, such as supplies and travel costs.

The UROP administration office, located at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, makes decisions for funding each year after the UROP Administrative Fellow reports to the Vice President for Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. At UMD there are five UROP coordinators who meet regularly with the Associate   Vice Chancellor for Academic Administration.                          

Holst takes pride in the undergraduate experience that has become so beneficial to students. He encourages undergraduate students to get involved in programs like UROP. "We use UROP as a recruiting tool when potential students want to know what is unique about UMD," said Holst. "We have an outstanding research faculty that is hard for other campuses to compete with."

In the Department of Geology, another CSE department, Associate Professor Howard Mooers has sponsored eight students in UROP over the last five years. "It's a double-edged sword in a way, it is rewarding but it also takes quite a bit of time," said Mooers.

According to Mooers, his UROP students have all gained knowledge that can be used well beyond their career at UMD. "Research is a very powerful educational tool, it gets students involved in the writing, literary, and analytical skills that lead    to employment," said Mooers. Some of Mooers' students have had their UROP reports published in journals. "Out of all the undergraduate and graduate research that I have supervised,     the most publishable have been UROP reports," said Mooers. "Masters theses tend to be too long and difficult to condense, while the UROP reports are short, concise, and really contribute to a specific topic."

Gunderson, who was sponsored by Mooers, made a UROP contract to reconstruct the Laurentide Ice Sheet on a raised relief map of Canada and the United States using Silly Putty. "I recreated different flow patterns in glaciers by matching sediment records," said Gunderson. This was a most difficult model to build because of the research and critical thinking skills needed to build it."

Gunderson's interest in glaciers was sparked by taking classes taught by Mooers, who has a Ph.D. in glacial studies. "UROP gives you a chance to know your professors on a   more personal level," said Gunderson.

Joe Gallian, professor in the Department of Math and Statistics, another CSE department, has also been active in sponsoring UROP students. In addition to UROP at UMD, Gallian directs a summer undergraduate research program that includes students from other universities all across the nation.

Gallian enjoys sponsoring students for UROP because it allows students to see how math is used in the "real world."   "It is exciting to learn how so many things fit together    through mathematics," said Eric Aska, a senior math major    sponsored by Gallian. "When I see a bar code on a cereal box, I see all the mathematical calculations that went in to determining that code," said Aska. "You don't get that kind of   experience in the classroom."

Aska investigated the accuracy of various methods in predicting the winning teams in college football games. He studied how close the Las Vegas odd makers and the USA Today computer ratings are to the actual outcome of the games. He also examined the predicted outcomes of games based on the rankings of the teams by Associated Press sports writers poll and the CNN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Gallian noted how successful his UROP students have been   in job interviews. They really stand out to the interviewer when they can talk about the research they have done in the real world," said Gallian.

UMD undergraduate scholars have additional opportunities for research. The Swenson Family Foundation, founded by Jim Swenson (class of 1959) and his wife Sue Swenson, funds summer chemistry undergraduate research students.

Jeremy Dohm, a senior from New Prague, Minnesota, worked on Swenson projects during the last two summers under the direction of Donald Poe, professor in the Department of Chemistry. Dohm's research began in 1995 and has progressed with the help of UROP grants and Swenson scholarships. He presented his research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Austin, Texas in April of 1997.

Dohm's work involves research in methods of analytical chemistry called supercritical fluid chromatography. "It is pretty exotic work for an undergraduate," Dohm said. "I figured out that I was going to major in chemistry when I was in high school. I always understood my chemistry classes and found myself explaining the experiments to others." But Dohm didn't know that he would be doing such advanced research so soon. He said, "Dr. Poe had openings      for students in his chromatography research lab and I was    lucky to be in the right place at the right time."

In general terms, chromatography is a group of analytical methods that separate compounds by passing them through a bed, or a column, packed with material.

Chromatography is widely used in industry. Chemists commonly use this analytical method to separate compounds. It is employed in agriculture, food processing and other industries.

However, supercritical fluid chromatography is not as   commonly used. Because "supercritical fluids" are extremely dense gasses, they have properties somewhat similar to liquids and somewhat similar to gasses.

The technique of using supercritical fluids is a relatively   new modification and application of chromatography and it offers unique possibilities for speed and resolving power that complement those of other chromatographic methods. Dohm tests the effects of density, temperature and pressure drops on speed and resolving power so critical to each application.

Dohm's work will provide better understanding of the fundamental properties and underlying principals that govern supercritical fluid chromatography.

A wide number of industrial users will be able to employ Dohm's research. It is especially applicable to the petroleum industry and in the development of pharmaceutical products.

The College of Liberal Arts does not have as many students involved in UROP as CSE. However, according to Klaus Jankofsky, professor in the Department of English, this does not change the value of the UROP experience. Jankofsky has sponsored 13 students since 1988, and finds that UROP has assisted students to find a direction for their literary studies.

"All of my UROP students have developed greater reading, writing, and organizational skills," said Jankofsky. "Students also benefit in the classroom with a noticeable improvement in writing papers and making presentations."

Stacy Zellman, senior English major, was sponsored by Jankofsky in the UROP during 1995-96 when she researched   the types of literature found in six modern Arthurian novels about Queen Guinevere. "My research was different from any project that I have done for any class, it was a bigger and more rewarding experience," said Zellman.

Undergraduate research has been a success at UMD for many years. During the past decade, the number of students involved in research has increased significantly due to programs like UROP and the Swenson Family Foundation. These programs give every student at the university the opportunity to expand on what interests them most.

-- Cheryl Reitan and Shane Phillips

 

 
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