Undergraduates compete for research prizes

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Inside the long arc of windows in the atrium of Icahn Laboratory, undergraduate scientists lined up with poster summaries of their independent work May 5. The nearly 70 students in this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium explained their findings to judges and peers, with topics ranging from “Regime Identification in Stock Markets and its Applications in Stochastic Portfolio Optimization” to “Plains Zebras’ Reactions to Lion Dung: The Interaction of Leadership, Risk Assessment, and Information Exchange.”

At the end of the afternoon, Ian Brasg ’10′s work on “Metabolic Changes Coordinated with the Acidogenic-Solventogenic Transition in Clostridium acetobutylicum” earned the symposium’s grand prize of $1,000. Other winners included Wai Ling Cheung ’10, second place; Jeremy Borjon ’10, third place; and Zackory Burns ’10, who won the “people’s choice” prize, determined by votes from participants and visitors. Nine additional students — all seniors — reached the symposium’s final round of judging: Abdallah Bukari, Diana Chien, Joonas Govenius, Christina Jung, Wesley Loo, Raaj Mehta, Darcie Ryan, Lily Tarjan, and Esther Won.

The student-run symposium, now in its eighth year, gives undergraduates a chance to polish their presentation skills and share their work with friends and classmates, according to Brian Hsueh ’12, who co-chaired the event with Ryan Fuh ’11. The symposium’s faculty judges evaluate participants on a range of criteria, including creativity, scientific thought, engineering goals, and thoroughness, Hsueh said.

About half of this year’s entrants were in the biological sciences — either from molecular biology or ecology and evolutionary biology — while a quarter came from engineering departments. Majors in the physical sciences and social sciences also were represented. Most participants were seniors or juniors, but a handful of sophomores and freshmen also presented projects.