Rui Wang ’14, Katherine Betuel ’14, Emma Lagle ’14, and Chen Zhou ’16 each study different subjects, but they have one thing in common: They were all accepted for presentation at the 2014 National Conference on Undergraduate Research, held last month at the University of Kentucky.
This year, like many years before, New Paltz students had a 100 percent acceptance rate to the conference, well above the national average of 83 percent.
“Participation in the conference provides the students with the professional experience of presenting research results,” says Maureen Morrow, director of undergraduate research and professor of biology. “The success of our students is due to hard work of both the students and the faculty mentors who supervise the students’ research.”
Demand for solar examined
Wang, a double major in math and economics, says she jumped at the chance to participate in the Undergraduate Research Experience, and was especially excited to work with one of her favorite professors, Simin Mozayeni of economics. Wang’s project, “Solar Photovoltaic Panels Industry Structure and Market Power,” was selected for an oral presentation at the conference, while Betuel, Lagle, and Zhou participated in the poster presentations.
For her project, Wang researched the demand for solar energy among several countries including China, the United States and various European nations.
“The European countries are the major, primary users of solar energy,” says Wang. “China is producing tons of solar PV panels, but at a very low cost. … Some people think it’s because of cheaper labor, but it’s the government subsidies and policies that also make it cheaper.”
Wang noted that while the U.S. government could do better in its solar energy policies, she understands the challenges to implementation: “If, in China, the government wants to do something, that thing will happen,” says Wang. “But in the U.S., it’s a different story. It’s not that easy to get things going.”
Potential new discoveries
Biology major Betuel, who is concentrating in cellular/molecular biology and minoring in chemistry, worked with Morrow and professor Hon Ho on “Characterization and Effectiveness of the Antifungal Metabolite Produced by the Isaria Fungus,” a research project she picked up from a previous student.
“They had isolated a fungus, and saw when it was grown in a lab, there were no other fungi growing with it,” says Betuel. “So we believe that it was producing a compound that was an antifungal. … I worked to test what range of other fungi it would work on, and we’re hoping that they’re very common on farms so that it can be used on plants to stop these fungi from growing on and killing the plants.”
The prospect of her research being utilized commercially is exciting to Betuel, who hopes to further develop her understanding of this particular fungus and possibly see it marketed to agricultural entities.
“She has all of the qualities of a good researcher, and due to her hard work and diligence, she made good progress on her project,” says Morrow of Betuel. “It is always a pleasure to see a student develop to the point of working independently in the laboratory. Katie did that and more.”
An assortment of interests
Lagle, a double major in history and sociology, presented an abstract titled “Internment and Repatriation: The Gendered British Policy Concerning German Immigrants in the First World War.”
She became interested in World War I while taking a seminar with Professor Andy Evans. For her research, Lagle decided to marry this subject with her other academic interests, resulting in an exploration of British policy toward German civilians living in Britain during World War I, all through the specific lens of traditional gender notions.
“There were only 15 of us in the course, which makes it a lot easier to approach someone,” says Lagle. “(Evans) really was there for us, no matter what we needed. I have a lot of great connections and relationships with faculty that I probably would not have made at a larger school.”
Lagle says Evans encouraged the class to participate in NCUR to represent the humanities and social studies at the normally science-heavy event.
“Emma’s essay was crisply written, deeply researched, and highly significant,” says Evans. “It completely deserves the recognition it has received from the National Undergraduate Research Council.”
Personal experience inspires research
Linguistics major Zhou worked with linguistics program director Oksana Laleko on her research project “Transfer from Second Language to Third Language: Role of Second Language in Third Language Acquisition,” which examines the positive and negative roles that a second language can play in the acquisition of a third language.
“Chen decided to focus on the issue of third language acquisition, a relatively under-researched area in the study of bilingualism, and I am very happy that she was able to pursue this project upon returning from China, where learning not one but two foreign languages is now becoming common practice,” says Laleko.
The topic was inspired, Zhou said, by her own life experiences.
“My native language is Chinese, my second language is English, and I learned Japanese as my third language,” says Zhou. “The word orders of Japanese and English are different, so when I was learning Japanese, English was actually having a bad influence on my Japanese acquisition. That’s how I started this project.”