By Jim DeLa
Twenty New College students shared their exhilarating — and sometimes gut-wrenching — experiences of summer research opportunities at a research showcase event Sept. 23 in the Heiser Natural Sciences Complex.
The campus community got the chance to talk one-on-one with the students during an hourlong poster session before gathering for a panel discussion.
The research conducted included a wide array of fields, including physics, computer science, data science, biology, chemistry and psychology.
Eleanor Young, a second-year computer science AOC, worked with Assistant Professor of Human Centered Computing Tania Roy to develop a phone app that can analyze digital content shared between users to flag potentially abusive behavior. “Studies have shown that people can recognize when other people are in abusive relationships, but not their own,” she said.
Young developed the app, called SecondLook, using algorithms devised by Roy, that will be able to identify potentially abusive texts and messages, and provide local and national resources for victims of abusive relationships.
Young says she’s planning a future independent study project that will allow the app to analyze Twitter feeds. “The goal is to ultimately make the app available on Google Playstore.”
Jessica Franks, a second-year marine biology AOC, spent the summer looking for a potentially devastating bacteria in two endangered species of butterflies.
She explained that the bacteria, Wolbachia, can alter the butterflies’ DNA, which can kill all male offspring or create only female offspring, which could lead to extinction of the species. She plans to continue this research this semester. “I’m getting experience. It’s pretty cool,” she said.
Matthew Mancini spent the summer as a lab assistant in the optical spectroscopy and nano-materials lab in the Heiser complex, working with physics professor Mariana Sendova, where they studied glass transition temperature, the point where solid glass turns to a viscoelastic material. Data collected, his poster explained, can be useful to materials science.
During the panel discussion, Mancini told a story about an experiment he feared had gone horribly wrong. Expecting a glass sample to look the same as it did before an experiment, he was shocked to find it had changed. “It was bright red. Tiger-striped red,” he recalled. “Oh my God, I’ve screwed this up, the data is worthless,” he thought. To make matters worse, Sendova was out of the country. “I was terrified,” Mancini said.
After emailing his professor with the news, Mancini said she was thrilled. “She said ‘This is wonderful.’ ” The unexpected result turned out, Mancini said, to be a significant finding that will be included in a paper that has been accepted for publication. “Dr. Sendova is brilliant for her creativity,” Mancini added.
All of the undergrads at the panel discussion, many of whom were doing research at other universities alongside Ph.D.s and graduate students, said while it was daunting at first, they were well prepared to meet the challenges.
Alex Sturzu, a physics and mathematics AOC, studied at the Jefferson National Accelerator Facility at Old Dominion University, conducting simulations for nuclear physics using quantum computers. “I was quite worried and scared at the beginning,” he said. “Being in an environment where you’re pushed so hard really allowed me to hit the ground running once I was there. Because of the experience I had here during my first year at New College, I felt I was able to make sense of it all, to some reasonable degree.
“I had a wonderful experience .. the time of my life,” he said. “I learned some really cool physics and some really cool math.”
— Jim DeLa is digital communications coordinator at New College of Florida