By Rachel Thomas '14
This summer, 75 Hendrix students from sophomores to seniors participated in summer research projects on campus.
The students assisted Hendrix professors from the chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, kinesiology, arts and English departments. They helped build lasers, sequenced DNA, and studied elephants and the behavior of elements in the atmosphere.
They also had fun. A student-run summer events group organized movies, cook-outs, and a field day competition. The campus hosted several speakers for the students, on subjects like bridging the gender divide in science and what we can learn by peering into the depths of the universe.
"I decided to work as an undergraduate researcher to understand how research involving bioinformatics and genetics works in real life," Meghan Kerin '13 said of her experience. "I didn't want to leave Hendrix only reading textbooks about science; I also wanted to 'do' science."
Kerin worked with biology professor Dr. George Harper, sequencing genes from Arkansas copperhead snakes. She and the other students in Dr. Harper's lab were looking at genetic differences in two groups of copperheads, separated by a geographical barrier. Research like this can lead to the discovery of new species and subspecies, and gives students a chance to witness evolution in action.
"It has been exciting for me to work on sequencing a gene that has never before been sequenced," Kerin said.
Britton Jones '13 and others assisted physics professor Dr. Bob Dunn in building a ring laser. Large ring lasers at Hendrix have been monitoring the infrasound from hurricanes for several years in partnership with NASA, according to Jones.
"The most valuable part of my experience has been discovering the reality of doing research. What I mean by that is that most people, including myself, going into a research team for the first time, have a strangely over glorified idea of research," Jones said. "The truth is that you get frustrated a lot and sometimes you have to do grunt work, but sometimes you find something that makes all those struggles worth the effort."
Konstantin Gruenwald '15 is also assisting Dr. Dunn. As a rising sophomore, he's still exploring his options, and he's found summer research helpful.
"I have had an intense passion for physical law since my elementary school years, and - in a way - I have finally been able to practically apply my interest in the real world. I honestly don't know how this will fit with my professional plans, because I have no idea what my professional future will be! All I know is that I'm an undergraduate continuously exploring my interests," Gruenwald said.
Jake Leffert '13, who worked in Dr. Tom Goodwin's chemistry lab this summer, thought when he first came to Hendrix that he wanted to be a doctor. Now he's considering a career in chemistry. He's found his work in Dr. Goodwin's lab eye-opening.
"I would say the most eye-opening experience has been the reactions that have not worked. When you go into organic lab, your reactions (assuming you have read and follow the instructions) always work beautifully and end with the product you desire. However, in the research setting, I have come to realize that chemistry is more like a puzzle. A reaction can be run in one manner, and if it does not work then try it in a slightly different manner. You have to work logically and methodically to get to a pure product," Leffert said.
"I feel like I am becoming more and more comfortable working in the lab," said Robert Nshimiyimana '15, another student in Goodwin's lab. "…I know I will have to spend a lot of time working in the lab in my upper classes and after Hendrix, and this opportunity is sharpening my skills. I am glad I am getting to learn how to use sophisticated lab equipment and instrumentation."
One of the projects he, Leffert, and other students in Goodwin's lab have been working on involves partnering with high school teachers from Little Rock and chemistry departments at universities in Rwanda, to help develop experiments that can be performed with household products such as aspirin. They hope these experiments can be used by Rwandan universities that don't have access to expensive equipment and supplies.
While most of the students worked in traditional labs with science professors, a few worked on research projects in other fields.
Mollie Long '13 worked with arts professor Maxine Payne, taking photographs of the big woods in Arkansas for a nature guide book by biology professor Dr. Matt Moran. Long is an accounting major, but she was happy to spend her summer gaining experience in "a hobby that I love."
Elizabeth Krug '14 and Maitri Shah '14 did research on human ventilatory responses with kinesiology professor Dr. Danny Henderson.
"Although I am a psychology major, I am on the pre-med track and quite interested in how the body works," Shah said. "Doing research in the kinesiology department has allowed me to work with human subjects, and get more insight into how the respiratory system works."
"The most valuable part of the whole research experience has been learning to be flexible and troubleshoot problems that may arise unexpectedly," she added.
To read more about individual student research projects and what the student researchers took away from their summer experience, check out the Hendrix research website.
Rachel Thomas '14 is an English studies major from Fayetteville, Ark.