Over 1,000 Massachusetts undergraduate students—including 54 from Worcester State University—presented distinguished academic innovations and endeavors at the annual Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference  on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus on Friday, April 22.
Originally hosted in 1995 for the four UMass campuses, the conference is a prestigious opportunity for undergrads to present earnest years of work in over 70 areas, including thesis research, visual and performing arts, independent studies, community service, and study abroad.
The conference has grown astronomically in the past 20 years. By creating a platform not limited to presentation, the Commonwealth Honors College Program, directed by Linda Nolan, has cultivated a high-profile day for idea exchange, honing valuable presentation skills, and receiving professional feedback.
This year’s WSU student presenters, representing areas of study such as communication, economics, English, marketing, health sciences, history, and visual and performing arts, have been breaking new ground.
The scientific research of several students in particular has forged new ways of understanding the environment. Students Neil Chapin, Alexander Zielinski, Joseph Girouard, and Nidhee Krishnan have carefully developed research projects in the fields of chemistry and microbiology that could one day help change the way we power our motorized vehicles and use our soil.
Chapin “welcomed the opportunity as a learning experience,” showcasing his project on hydrogen storage in metal-decorated graphene systems. After working one-on-one with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Joseph Quattrucci, Ph.D., throughout the 2015 fall semester, Chapin decided to take his research further.
“Our goal is to find and develop an alternative to fossil fuel use,” he said. Typical routes of “hydrogen as a primary source of energy would be plausible,” but he’s aiming higher. Ultimately, he “wants to find the safe and convenient way to store hydrogen.”
Zielinski also presented extensive research in the field of renewable energy with sponsorship from Quattrucci. With research that began in the fall of 2015, Zielinski’s presentation was a “computational study of nickel decorated graphene for hydrogen storage.”
Implementation is unattainable for now, he said.
“Available hydrogen storage methods do not meet the standards for safety, efficiency, and performance required to implement hydrogen as a fuel source,” Zielinski explained. In order to one day utilize such resources, the “systems must be understood and optimized at an atomic level.”
“This is where this research comes in,” he said. His orientation focused on how “to understand how the system behaves, how it will effect overall hydrogen storage,” and of course, what he thinks are definite “ways to improve it.”
Both chemistry students were “looking forward to seeing the research performed by other undergraduates” and anticipate continuing their research long after the conference. “Hydrogen storage on graphitic materials is an active area of research,” Zielinski said, “and I do see it expanding in the future.”
Microorganisms in Soil
Girouard and Krishnan presented research on soil and the microorganisms which inhabit it.
Girouard has taken a decidedly specific approach by studying “the development processes of the soil bacterium Streptomycin coelicolor.”
After gaining sponsorship from Assistant Professor of Biology Roger Greenwell, Ph.D., and a Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Grant, Girouard has conducted research for the better part of two years to understand the importance of this organism’s lifecycle.
“This organism is a part of the actinomycete family of bacteria, which are known to produce anti-fungal, antiviral, anticancer, and antibiotic compounds,” he said. Though his research has a long way to go, what Girouard presented at the conference has the potential to have “medical or industrial significance.”
Girouard enjoys his research because of the “real-world applications it may bring” as well as the techniques he has used, which “are great practice towards a job in the future, particularly in the field of biotechnology.”
Girouard also will be presenting his work at the American Society of Microbiology National Conference in June.
Similarly, Krishnan has taken the study of microorganisms present in the soil back to Worcester roots. Since the fall of 2015, she has been “researching and determining the identity and complexity of microorganisms (specifically bacteria and fungi) present in the parks and playgrounds” of the city.
Also sponsored by Greenwell and a recipient of a Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Grant, Krishnan aims to help prevent “some childhood immune disorders” by studying the growth and human interaction, or lack thereof, of the bacteria present in Worcester parks’ soil. Her work is one of the projects WSU students and faculty are doing for the Worcester Community Health Improvement Plan  and Worcester Division of Public Health.
“We want to promote healthy activities,” she said. “Playing in the dirt is important for the prevention of some childhood immune disorders including asthma and allergies.”
Krishnan has worked extensively to understand such interactions and benefits they have for our body’s defense.
She doesn’t see her research ending with this research conference. “There are a lot of avenues for research in this area,” she said, and “identifying what is in the soil and monitoring the microbial population overtime can allow us to keep the environment safe for kids.”
The extensive research conducted by these four students, as well as that of the 50 other WSU student presenters, has bolstered an excitement and thirst for knowledge beyond the classroom walls. “The idea that I have the opportunity to take part in sharing my research with all of these students is incredibly exciting,” Krishnan said.
The following is a list of student presenters and their projects:
- Aislyn Cole, The Busy Beetle’s Traveling Trading Post – A journey into Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing a Children’s Book
- Danielle Wilbur, Interpersonal Connections
- Olivia Christy, Facial Expressions Influence on Emotions
- Rebeca Ruiz, Barrier of Shadows
- Ryan Jarvis, On Connection
- Farah Khazen, Aesthetics in Dentistry
- Kara Lowkes, Abstract Art in Everyday Life
- Anne Nickerson, Marine Painting
- Alexander Zielinski, DFT Study of the Dissociation of Molecular Hydrogen over Nickel Deco-rated Graphene
- James LeNoir, Chemical Analysis for the Presence of Bisphenol-A in Water Samples from the Mealy Mountains, Southeastern Labrador, Canada
- Neil Chapin, Hydrogen Storage in Metal Decorated Graphene Systems
- Tadas Buivydas, Computational Investigation of the Reaction Mechanism of HNO with Thiols
- Monica Lecuyer, Communication and Status on the Internet
- Morgan doCurral, The Story behind Animation and Film
Community or Public Service
- Brittany Desilets, Reyes House Access to Healthcare
- Suada Bano, Surviving Probation
- Drew Case, The Politico-Economic Zoo: Presidential Parties and Their Effect on Stock Market Index Performance
- Michael Correa, Determinants of Crime: The Factors behind Why Crime is Committed
- Angela Georger, Creative Dramatics
- Amy Angell, The Goodbye Moon: A Memoir of Loss
- Madison Friend, A Feminist Critique of Presidential Stump Speeches
- Kasey Wozniak, Introducing Elizabeth Bishop, Poetry, and Writing as a Process
- Kimberly Andolina, The War on Drugs and Immigrants: A Status on Suffering
- Matthew LaJeunesse, The Process of Diplomatic Normalization between the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
- Ryan MacRae. U.S. Rhetoric versus Reality during the 1954 Coup in Guatemala
- Timothy Schroeder, The United Fruit Company: (American) Rhetoric vs. Reality in the Cold War Era
- Vincent Ricci, The Great Communicator? Reagan’s Struggle to Shape U.S. Opinions of the San-dinista Government in Nicaragua and the Iran-Contra Affair
- Brianna Novicki, Stress, Stigma, Shame, and Support: The Abortion Experience for Women in the U.S.
- Emily White, Robbed of Choice: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the United States of America
- Jemini Patel, Trew Friends Expansion
- Amber Suarez, Cafe Reyes Marketing Venture
- Joseph Girouard, Effectors of the Streptomyces coelicolor Life Cycle Transition to Aerial Hyphae
- Nidhee Krishnan, Monitoring and Identifying Members of the Soil Microbiota in Worcester Area Parks
- Daniel White, Choral Composition
- Kelsey Govoni, My Life and Its Musical Representation
- Jessica Lusek, The Impact of Community Administered Naloxone on Opioid Overdose
- Maria Milendorf, Mindfulness and Language: Effects on Consciousness and Health
- Jessica Richard, Examining the Combined Effects of Learning Strategies and Task Application on Knowledge and Interest
- John Stranieri, The Walkability of Nature Trails
- Courtney Mullin, Comparing Formal and Informal Measures of Stuttering Severity
- Jocelyn Hurst, Visual vs. Auditory Confrontation Naming in People with Aphasia
- Amber Army, Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline from Within New Classroom Walls
- Brian Forbes, Effectiveness of Electronic Monitoring
- Courtney Chisholm, What Factors Contribute to Recidivism of Probationers?
- Danielle MacNeil, The Effectiveness of Juvenile Probation
- Danielle Lagasse, The Promising Factors of Completing Drug Courts
- James O’Brien, Does Probation Work?
- Jillian Temple, Reintegrating into Society
- Keira Thornton, Effectiveness of Juvenile drug courts in Massachusetts
- Kevin Fitzpatrick, Effectiveness of Halfway Houses
- Rachel Redlich, Comparison of Recidivism Rates among White and Non-White Males after Suc-cessful Completion of Home Electronic Monitoring
- Sean Leary, Effectiveness of Drug Courts
- Matthew Gray, Creating Character in Devised Theatre
- Michaela McBride, CitySpeak
Kate Tattan ’16 is an English major.
About the Photo: This is a stock image of a car at a hydrogen fuel pump in Poland.