STEM Poster Palooza celebrates undergraduate research

Each summer, dozens of undergraduate students join McKelvey School of Engineering faculty members in their labs and classrooms at Washington University in St. Louis to take part in research opportunities available through programs such as the Washington University Summer Engineering Fellowship (WUSEF) and departmental REU programs.

Above, Reid Chunn, a student participanting in the WUSEF program, presents his research at the STEM Poster Palooza. Below, Matt Gleeson at the STEM Poster Palooza.

For many students, these programs provide them with their first real-world experiences in academic research.

"I didn't think I would really like working in a lab in any way shape or form," said Aryiana Moore, a WUSEF fellow and a senior double majoring in political science and environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University. "I've had such a wonderful time here that it's opened up my mind to the possibility of pursuing — if not a profession in research — classes that revolve around research."

To cap off this year's work, the McKelvey School of Engineering hosted STEM Poster Palooza, a poster session event that, for the first time, brought together students from multiple research programs throughout the school on July 25.

"Since there were so many of us, we thought it might be neat to have everyone present together and have a giant celebration of the students' hard work," said Janie Brennan, director of Undergraduate Studies and a lecturer in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering (EECE).

Nearly 60 students participated in the session, representing several summer research programs including WUSEF, EECE summer research students, the thermal management and computer science REU programs, the Missouri Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (MoLSAMP) and the Center for Engineering Mechanobiology (CEMB) program.

While more than half of the participants were WashU students, others hailed from nationally ranked universities such as Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt, as well as international institutions such as the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico City and Seoul National University, both members of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy.

STEM Poster Palooza wasn't just a new endeavor for the school. For many of the undergraduate researchers, the event marked the first time they'd presented research in a public forum.

gleeson-presentation.jpg"It was a fun time," said Matt Gleeson, a senior majoring in computer science at WashU. "It was good to show the fruits of my labor and everything that I've done this summer."

Gleeson worked in the lab of Roman Garnett, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, and said he enjoyed learning more about academic research.

"It's given me a good idea of what I want to do after I graduate because research is definitely one of the things that I'm considering," he said. "I've heard that research is not for a lot of people, and I wanted to make sure it was for me."

Alex Kattan, a junior majoring in chemical engineering at WashU, was also presenting for the first time at the session. After switching majors to chemical engineering his sophomore year, Kattan said his lab experience helped him catch up to his peers.

"It was a good way to really dive into chemical engineering even though I felt a little late," he said. "Now I feel like I'm getting involved with things relatively quickly, and I'm very thankful for the institution for allowing me to do that."

When it came to presenting his work at STEM Poster Palooza, Kattan said he wasn't too nervous.

"As nerve wracking as it is, it's also very exciting," he said. "I know what I'm talking about, I know everything that's on my poster, and it just takes a little bit of confidence to get above my nervousness and overcome it."

As at many research poster sessions, the students' work was judged, and the top five presentations were awarded cash prizes. The winners were:

  • First place: Brendan Otani, WUSEF program. "Implementation of Coughing and Breathing Simulations on a Biomechanical Surrogate Abdomen."
  • Second place: Mahlon Dizzy Farbanish, CSE REU. "Selective Hole Filling for 3D Plant Images."
  • Third place: Sydney Hornitschek, EECE Summer Interns. "Use of Rapid Prototyping in Instrumentation Development for Measurement of VOCs and Carbon Monoxide Exposure."
  • Fourth place: Daryl Wilson, WUSEF. "Discrimination of C. reinhardtii Mutations Using Acoustic Trap and Release for PCD Identification."
  • Fifth place: Keanu Davis, Missouri LSAMP. "Replacement of HIV-1 Nucleocapsid Domain with Heterologous RNA-binding Domains."

Brennan said she was excited to see that the awards went to students from a variety of programs and that, overall, the event was a big success.

"It was awesome seeing so many students interacting and learning more about the different kinds of research we do here," Brennan said. "There was so much energy in the room. We are pretty excited to make this bigger and better next year."