For many college students, summer means relaxing at the beach or the pool.
But for West Virginia University student Katie Phillips, its a unique opportunity to apply what shes learned in the classroom to cutting-edge research.
The forensic and investigative science and chemistry major is one of about two dozen students spending their break performing research in math, science and engineering through WVU s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, or SURE , that began in June and continues through July.
SURE , coordinated by the WVU Honors College, teams college students from around the state with WVU faculty mentors from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences; Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences; and College of Engineering and Mineral Resources for an intensive, eight-week research program.
Phillips, a senior from Centerville, Ohio, is paired with Suzanne Bell, director of WVU s Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program in the Eberly College. Bells career includes working at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico State Police Crime Laboratory.
I chose forensic and investigative science because it allows me to use science to help society and make our judicial system stronger,said Phillips, whose career goal is to become a forensic toxicologist for a crime lab.
Her summer project focuses on the detection of explosives, their metabolites and degradation products in soil and other materials. She is part of a research team that is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the West Virginia Water Resources Institute to investigate the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area which used to be a target area in World War II.
We have a portable instrument that wed like to take out to Dolly Sods so that we can detect explosives in our soil samples while out on the field,Phillips said.It is my job to create a method of detection for this instrument using soil samples that I made with known concentrations of explosives. If I can find a method that works and is consistent, then next time we go to Dolly Sods, we can take the instrument with us, analyze the soil there and return to our lab at WVU with soil that we know has an explosive in it.
Phillips said the SURE program has given her the opportunity to use many of the instruments that are used in an actual crime lab.
Having experience on these instruments will benefit me when applying for internships and ultimately finding a job,she said,and being able to present this research at the American Academy of Forensic Science meeting in February will allow me to make contacts with professionals in my field.
Bell is one of the principle investigators on the Dolly Sods explosives project. This is her second time working with SURE .
Last year, I had three students,she said,and all presented their work at the national meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences last February in San Antonio. I have been impressed with the SURE program and what it offers to students.
Meanwhile, senior William Reinike, a foreign languages and math major from Parkersburg, is working on computational fluid dynamics simulations to investigate the flow of natural gas through various kinds of concept valves.
The basic idea is to find the correct valve design to maximize mass flow and minimize pressure drop through the valve, explained his faculty mentor Mary Ann Clarke, an assistant professor of mathematics in the Eberly College.
The best valve designs will be fabricated and tested by the National Energy Technology Lab, she said, and later on, these valves will be implemented in natural gas powered turbines that make electricity. The new valves will reduce natural gas waste and improve turbine efficiency, making the process cleaner and more cost efficient.
I have known Will for about a year, but it is summer funding through the SURE program that has really given us the time to work and research together,Clarke said.Will is making excellent progress, and he is learning some practical programming and mathematical tools that will serve him well after he graduates.
I am so pleased with his progress that I have requested grant funding to continue his financial support in the fall semester,she added.Hes doing a great job.
Rose Simis, a graduate assistant in the Honors College, said SURE provides talented students an exciting opportunity to gain real-world research experience while getting paid a $3,500 stipend for their time in the lab.
Theyre mostly WVU students, but students from all over are invited to apply,she said.
In addition to hands-on research, SURE participants, along with 20 WVU sophomores and juniors in the WV Nano/LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) program, have been attending a weekly, one-hour credit class where they learn about graduate school opportunities, research methods and ethics, scholarships and more. Class time also exposes SURE students to the research being performed by others in the program.
And just last week,students took a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.arranged by WVU alumna Dr. Trisha Kalbaugh, a postdoctoral fellow at The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
The program is trying to encourage students to pursue research in graduate school,Simis said.Opportunities are out there if they want to stay in the lab.
I think the huge benefit for students is its funded, so they dont have to split their time between the lab and a job,she said,and just having the experience with a professor, making a poster and doing it with 23 other students. Its a good baby step for other presentations they might want to make in the future. It really does help them grow as researchers to have this structure.
SURE and WV Nano/LSAMP students will present their research findings in the form of poster presentations at the SURE Research Symposium at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 26, on the third floor of the Life Sciences Building. The research showcase is open to the public.
SURE is supported by the West Virginia Experimental Project to Stimulate Competitive Research (WVEPSCoR) and funded by the West Virginia Research Challenge Fund. For more information, go tohttp://www.honors.wvu.edu/sure/.