August 05, 2012

Undergraduate Students Undertake Diverse Research Projects

Collaborative Research - Main

Over the summer, undergraduate students have been working hard on collaborative research projects with the guidance of their professors. Research is conducted in departments across the university on a wide-range of topics from fine arts and humanities to social and natural sciences.

The projects require students to work closely with their faculty adviser to come up with a topic. Then, they develop a question pertaining to their area of interest, which they use as a guide. Students use experiments to embark on the mission of discovering answers.

Two months ago the university announced it received $1.1 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to develop "Engaging Science Students through Investigative Research", a new program that expands Hamline’s science education programs. Hamline is using the grant to engage students in hands-on learning that brings their education to a higher level.

Science is just one of the robust focus areas within Hamline’s summer collaborative research program. Junior Lars Meisner is conducting a biology project, which involves culturing cancer cells and then testing for growth patterns.

“We use a process called transfection to basically insert genetic material into the cancer cells,” Meisner said.

Presley Martin, professor of biology, says students receive in-depth knowledge of biology, chemistry, genetics, environmental science and many other focus areas through these projects.

“Research is one of the most beneficial things for undergraduates to do,” Martin said. “It gives students a better understanding of the field. These projects are inherently interdisciplinary.”

Not only are students using this opportunity to expand their knowledge in their desired field of employment such as psychology, anthropology, and communications, they are also using these projects to help open doors to further education.

"I am looking into medical school,” Meisner said. “Research never hurts, and I am thinking this is the kind of project that I can turn into an honors project.”

Some research results are of such high quality they are published in academic journals or used by organizations to help solve problems. One example involves a homeowner’s association, a watershed district, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which are using results from student research to help solve the water clarity issues facing Square Lake near Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Historically, Square Lake has been known for its clear water, but recently residents and DNR officials noticed changes. Data collected by Hamline students and faculty are being used by the watershed district and the Minnesota DNR to develop a new fisheries management plan for the lake that aims to restore the water quality of Square Lake.

"Because of the stocking of trout in the lake that began 30 years ago, the trout are eating these smaller organisms that eat the algae out of the water,” Martin said. “The trout are over-eating this zooplankton and therefore the algae is overgrowing.”

Each summer, students have the extraordinary opportunity to put their knowledge to the test by participating in these ongoing research projects. From examining the growth patterns of cancer cells to the issues facing Mother Nature, Hamline students are making a difference one lab at a time.