This summer, six undergraduates conducted individual research projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
Adam Lanphear ’18 says that the coolest thing he did during his Research Experience for Undergraduates was to collect the cell material he needed for his research: two types of immune cells, called macrophages, found in the fluid and tissue of mouse lungs. Those cells became the foundation for his work with various nano-materials. His excitement at being at the forefront of cutting-edge research mirrors the tone of several other Washington College students participating in highly competitive REU programs around the country this summer.
The Research Experience for Undergraduates Program is as diverse in subject matter as science itself. Funded and organized through the National Science Foundation, REU programs offer highly specific, intensive hands-on research projects to selected applicants. There are dozens to choose from. A quick foray into the REU program page on the NSF website presents 19 different subjects to explore, including biological sciences, social and behavioral studies, and programs co-funded by the Department of Defense. Within each subject are scores of specific REU programs to which an undergraduate may apply. If accepted, students spend several weeks living at that particular REU program’s host institution, collaborating with faculty and graduate students there. Accepted students frequently receive reimbursement for travel expenses and lodging, and are awarded a stipend for the duration of their tenure.
Lanphear, a biology major, was placed with the University of Montana Center for Environmental Health. Ciarah Williams ’18, a psychology major, was with the Summer Research Internship Program at the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Pharmacology Department, probing behaviors in the pre-frontal cortex of the human brain. Julia Portmann ’19, double majoring in environmental science and biology, spent her summer at Eastern Kentucky University, looking into bat activity on campus as well as visitor perception of Daniel Boone National Forest’s management of white nose syndrome, the deadly fungus claiming the lives of millions of North American bats. Biology major Alex Riedel ’18 was in the Nathan Schnaper Intern Program in Translational Cancer Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, researching the role of a certain protein on DNA binding and repair as it relates to the genesis of cancer. Jessica Peters ’20 worked with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Microbial Ecology, and Mingyi Zhu ’18 was at the University of Rochester.
Though the research they conducted is diverse in subject matter, a common finding has surfaced among these students: participating in REUs helped them find answers to more than scientific inquiries. Besides learning how to work in a lab setting and conduct research on a higher level, REUs offer networking opportunities and real-world experience. From solidifying aspirations for PhDs, underscoring the necessity of teamwork in a research environment, and learning to think outside the box and ask the big questions, these REUs have helped Washington College undergraduates grow as scientists and people, and illuminated potential paths beyond graduation. As Riedel says, “I couldn’t have been led to a better internship for my specific set of goals. I have made so many connections…. At the start of the program, I had no idea the amount of opportunities it would open up for me, but now I’m so grateful to have been able to intern there.”