SUNY Broome students aren’t just mastering their subjects in the classroom. They’re also researchers — hitting the labs and open fields, conducting studies and even making documentaries that highlight their discoveries.
More than a dozen SUNY Broome students have been selected to present their research projects April 15 at the second annual SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference (SURC), which takes place at SUNY Cobleskill. This is the first time SUNY Broome students are presenting research at the conference, which has drawn a half-dozen community colleges in addition to four-year schools, noted Dean of Liberal Arts Michael Kinney.
“Having our students invited to this event demonstrates their commitment to a quality education,” said SUNY Broome Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Francis Battisti.
Participants in the SURC conference include members of this year’s AA1 class, Dr. Kim McLain’s Medical Assisting students, and two solitary Hornet researchers: Curtis Carll, under the instruction of Dr. Jay Wang, and Zach Baird, mentored by Dr. Fred Loveland.
In the Lyme Light
Research is part of the curriculum for SUNY Broome’s Associate in Arts in One Year, or AA1, program. In the fall, the close-knit group of academically talented students created their own documentary, In the Lyme Light, that focuses on the causes and impact of the tick-borne disease, which has become endemic in the Broome County area.
The seven students – Noah Thayne, Eniko Vaghy, Jon Wilken, Nia Been, Nikki Putman, Stella Safari and Taylor Thomas – also drew on the college’s Lyme disease research program, spearheaded by Dr. Tracy Curtis. Students in Curtis’ Research Experiences in Biology class gather deer ticks from Broome County locations – Chenango Valley State Park and the college’s nature preserve are two such areas – and then conduct DNA testing to see if they carry the Lyme spirochete. Of the 240 ticks analyzed so far, 37 percent have tested positive for the Lyme spirochete, Curtis said.
During the creation of their 30-minute documentary, the AA1 students earned about lighting, film editing, sound editing and more – as well as the science behind a disease that few understand. Footage included interviews with Lyme sufferers, including SUNY Broome student Ashley LoMonaco and employee Kurt Nelson, as well as the founder of a local Lyme disease support group, Lyme researchers and UHS physician Dr. Don Nash. This semester, they are engaged in a different research projects for their social problems and research methods class.
Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands
Students in Professor McLain’s Medical Assisting class chose a subject of critical importance in healthcare: handwashing. Lisa Brown, Myriah Bodie, Taylor Larson, Maria Bajwa and Jacob Yoest conducted an observational study in the Student Center, with the catchy name of “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.”
“It’s a very basic thing and people don’t realize how important it is,” said Bajwa, noting the role that handwashing plays in stemming the spread of illness.
The team set up their experiment in the Student Center, where they smeared participants’ hands with a clear liquid that can be seen under a blacklight. Test subjects then washed their hands in a nearby bathroom, and then returned to see if any glowing residue remained under the blacklight. The testers then ranked participants’ handwashing efforts, noting which areas of the hand escaped a good scrubbing.
Additionally, participants were asked to fill out a survey that assessed their knowledge of proper handwashing technique and their own observations of campus handwashing practices, as well as their major, age and gender. As an incentive, they were entered into a drawing to win one of three Fitbits, as well as received free hand sanitizer and other items.
It turns out that Hornets – at least the ones taking the survey – believe in keeping their hands clean, with an average score of 88 percent. The team is still crunching the numbers to see how different majors stack up, with a particularly keen eye on Health Sciences.
Of course, doing well in an observational study may not equate to real-life results, the researchers caution.
“Did they do well because they were being observed?” Brown wondered. “We weren’t surprised (they did so well) because we were watching them.”
With more than 300 applications to SURC, it’s an honor to be accepted as a presenter, Professor McLain reflected. Her students were excited to go – and a bit intrigued.
“I’m curious what other projects will be displayed there,” Yoest said.
The decline and fall of the Roman empire
The sciences aren’t the only locus of research. Liberal Arts major Zach Baird channeled his interest in ancient Rome into an exploration of why the Western Roman Empire failed. But rather than limited himself to history books, he went to the primary sources – written in Latin.
He started learning Latin around a year ago, he said. Fifth-century Latin offers up additional challenges, since it’s a transitional period between the language spoken during the Classical period and the Church Latin of the Middle Ages.
During the course of his project, he analyzed the impact of a variety of factors: the movement of the Huns into German territory, which then in turn pushed the German tribes into Roman provinces; the plague of Justinian, a pre-cursor to the Black Death, that wiped out half the population of Europe; the location of Roman legions in the empire. Ultimately, Rome fell when imperialism gave way to feudalism, decentralizing political power, he concluded.
Why study the Roman empire? The Western Empire lasted for a millennia and the Eastern Empire for two millennia, and they had a major impact on our civilization today.
“Even the way our doors swing comes from the Romans,” he said.
What’s interfering with the results?
Physics student Curtis Carll’s highly technical project involved four different power sources and a cathode ray tube, a slew of diagrams and multiple graphs charting results. The core issue: electron beam deflection – and why the experiment wasn’t reaching the expected result.
To achieve more accurate results, experimenters need to take the fringe field of electrons into account – the peripheral magnetic field beyond the magnetic core and the typical scope of the experiment.
“An electromagnetic field is going to affect a charged particle at any distance you can imagine,” Carll explained to faculty and fellow students at an April 14 Common Hour session.
During his research, Carll initially didn’t find a good deal of literature on this particular scenario, as it pertained to an electron beam in a vacuum situation. Going forward, the principles his research unearthed could be used to make instruments more precise and achieve more exact results.
His professors, Wang and Lofthouse, are currently looking into having Carll’s work published in academic journals, where it can reach a larger audience.
“It’s carrying knowledge of the area forward,” Wang said.