world is full of research projects
students find meaningful work in Africa, Antarctica, and their
friends' dorm rooms.
too often students come to college hoping to do original research
or collaborate with a professor, but find themselves cleaning
glassware or tending lab animals. This year, three U of C undergraduates
proved that research is for College students too.
Wayne Tsuang's idea came while he was recovering from the flu
his first year, when he says, "I began to wonder how living
in dorms affected how the flu was spread among students."
While it's well known that students living in dorms have a higher
risk for flu, no research demonstrates why. With funding from
the Richter Fund and the Women's Board, Tsuang set out to find
Tsuang-with advice from health-sciences professor John Bailar,
pediatric infectious diseases professor Janet Englund, and chair
of environmental studies Ted Steck-sent 1,700 surveys to dorm
residents at the end of last year's flu season, late winter
quarter 2000. With a response rate of 43 percent, the survey's
preliminary findings show that factors increasing a student's
risk of catching the flu include number of roommates, whether
the roommates' beds are in the same room, and if the room has
Tsuang was looking at flu data, fourth-year David Blackburn
was wrapping up a three-month leave of absence spent on a paleontological
expedition in Niger with Paul Sereno, professor of organismal
biology and anatomy. The expedition team collected fossils from
newly discovered species as well as missing parts of previously
discovered species. He spent his days chiseling, hammering,
lifting, and digging in temperatures that often reached 130ºF
in a camp with no indoor plumbing and a two-day drive from the
of Blackburn's daily duties was to make breakfast. "I woke
every morning at 5:30 and prepared breakfast. This ranged from
making hash browns, eggs, or oatmeal to pouring granola into
a bowl...and living up to everyone's expectations of what is
'good coffee,' which by the way, is a very difficult thing to
do in the middle of the world's largest desert."
who previously worked in Sereno's lab preparing, casting, and
molding fossils, was the only U of C undergraduate on the expedition.
plans to use the experience in his undergraduate work. "I
am currently working on preparing a fossil, the description,
systematics, and possibly biogeography of which will hopefully
serve as my honors thesis in biology." He hopes to do graduate
work on vertebrate paleontology, functional morphology, and
Blackburn was wiping sweat from his brow, physics concentrator
Gwynne Crowder was bundled up in Antarctica working as a technician
on the TopHat project, an experiment trying to detect small
variations within the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
left over from a short time after the Big Bang.
duties entailed electrical wiring, computer programming, and
repairing vacuum systems. As part of an outreach project with
two elementary-school classrooms, she also created a Web site
that featured a travel journal with photos, a Q&A section,
and an experiments log. "I designed some experiments that
I could run down in Antarctica while the classes could simultaneously
run the experiments themselves, in order to compare and contrast
the different places." Her work is online at topweb.gsfc.nasa.
says the weather in Antarctica was "actually not that bad-similar
to a Chicago winter." Being at the southernmost tip of
the planet did mean 24-hour daylight and no fresh food.
leaving campus isn't necessary. Undergraduates get involved
in research at the University in a number of ways. The College
Research Opportunities Program publishes a directory of faculty
research projects that welcome student participation, and other
opportunities are offered through Argonne National Laboratory
and the Division of Biological Sciences. Whether for academic
credit or just for fun and personal growth, undergraduate researchers
all report their experiences were positive. "Until a year
or so ago, I was in an entirely different concentration,"
says aspiring paleontologist David Blackburn, "but I was
seduced away by the simple fact that life and animals are too
cool not to study."-Q.J.