Undergraduates tackle important questions in sciences, humanities

Bala Krishnamoorthy and Josiah Cowin.Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, relieving chronic pain, understanding protest behavior, and conserving wildlife are among the goals of eight undergraduate research projects funded this spring by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Students from across the college—in mathematics, chemistry, foreign languages, and political, psychological, environmental, and biological sciences—are working with faculty mentors to solve questions as diverse as what are a book’s chances of becoming a best seller and which food sources threatened butterflies prefer.

“The college enthusiastically supports our students’ intellectual curiosity and the wide range of exciting and impactful research they conduct,” said Courtney Meehan, CAS associate dean for research and graduate studies. “Providing funds for these projects, and many more, advances the college’s ongoing commitment to support undergraduate students’ participation in an array of innovative research, scholarship, and creative activities.”

In their biological sciences research, senior Robert Lee and Associate Professor Wes Dowd are examining the way pigment availability affects how tiny shrimp-like creatures, called copepods, respond to environmental changes. In political science, junior Isabelle Gibson is working with Assistant Professor Jacob Lewis to learn what leads protesters to mobilize following incidents of police violence against African Americans.

Meanwhile, Maria Galindo-Cordova, a sophomore in humanities, and Spanish Professor Cassandra Gulam are collaborating to expand prior research into the roles of essential workers and childcare providers during the COVID 19 pandemic, and to disseminate the study results by sharing individual interviews and photos via website and multimedia community exhibits.

Qiang Zhang and Laren Forseth in Zhang's lab..
Chemistry Professor Qiang Zhang and senior Laren Forseth test material porosity using the surface area analyzer in Zhang’s lab.

In chemistry, senior Lauren Forseth and Assistant Professor Qiang Zhang are exploring use of low-cost, stable materials for converting the harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into value-added chemicals, while in mathematics, senior Josiah Cowin and Professor Bala Krishnamoorthy are using topological data analysis to develop a text assessment tool for predicting the likelihood a new manuscript will land on best-seller lists.

In separate research projects focused on wildlife conservation, Cheryl Schultz, professor of biological sciences, is mentoring two students: earth and environmental sciences senior Breeana Sheffield in “Habitat and Resource Use in Oregon Silverspot Butterfly: Analyzing 2021 field data to contribute to conservation planning for a threatened butterfly”; and biological sciences junior Kaitlyn Glover in “Assessing the Connection Between Phenology and Abundance for 30+ At-Risk Butterfly Species.”

For their project using a qualitative-study focus group, psychology senior Tami Robertson and Associate Professor Jessica Fales are investigating the experiences of young women with chronic pain from endometriosis. Their research seeks to improve understanding of the social influences and other factors that contribute to diagnostic delays and prolonged suffering of young women during menstruation. Endometriosis affects an estimated 11% of reproductive-age females, costing the United States $22 billion dollars a year, and is associated with increased risk of infertility, particularly when left untreated.

CAS began its funded undergraduate research program in 2013 and is now preparing to issue a call for proposals to support new projects commencing in summer or fall 2022, with proposals due around the middle of the spring semester.

Top image: Mathematics Professor Bala Krishnamoorthy and senior Josiah Cowin work on a way to analyze texts to predict which books will be best sellers.

By J. Adrian Aumen, College of Arts and Sciences