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U of U Undergrads Showcase Research Before Utah Lawmakers

January 21, 2003 — More than two dozen University of Utah undergraduate students will join counterparts from Utah State University in presenting “Posters on the Hill: A Celebration of Undergraduate Research” to Utah State Legislators on Thursday, Jan. 23, from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., in the rotunda of the State Capitol. The event, now in its third year, gives lawmakers the opportunity to see the high-caliber research projects coming from undergraduate students at the state’s two public research institutions.

Student’s visual representations will present overviews of individual research in disciplines ranging from chemistry to languages and literature, biology to civil and environmental engineering.
“These undergraduate students are involved in very complex, sophisticated research,” notes Nancy Lyon, assistant vice president for government affairs at the U. “We expect this kind of research from graduate students, but this event demonstrates that the University’s undergraduate students are capable of exceptional work.”

Associate Vice President for Research Ron Pugmire, who selects students from the large pool of candidates who are involved in undergraduate research, states that “Faculty members who are actively engaged in research programs are at the cutting-edge of their field and serve as mentors who can guide bright students in their undergraduate studies. This environment offers a great opportunity that is not available to students who do not attend a research university.”

Students selected to participate represent a diverse range of research topics. A sampling of this year’s subjects include research on the role of DNA repair enzymes in cancer prevention; the measurement of vitamin A and protein analysis in cerebrospinal fluid; the function of the esophagus in the American alligator; and the visual representation of Africans in the 18th- and 19th-century art and literature in England and France. All research projects are funded through either federal research grants or private industry. The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) at the University of Utah is a highly visible program. The University of Utah will host the national meeting of UROP this spring during which hundreds of undergraduate students from across the nation will participate.

Russell Keetch, a senior majoring in civil engineering, will present the extensive research he conducted to determine the optimum combination of materials to use in the design of a concrete canoe. This April, 26-year-old Keetch, a graduate of Hillcrest High School, will be competing in the American Society of Civil Engineers regional design competition. “The requirements of the competition make it very difficult to come up with a canoe that will actually float,” Keetch explains. “One of the challenges is to get the density of the concrete lower than the density of water because the canoe must float and be raced by four engineering students. We used glass beads as the principal material that made the canoe lighter than the density of water.

“The most exciting part of the research was taking a lot of different materials and researching which ones were the strongest and lightest, then combining them to make samples of different composition and properties. We made concrete tubes and bars and tested them for their flexural strength-or how far they would flex before breaking. We tested at day seven, 21 and 28. But the most fun part was actually finding out on day 28 which mix was the strongest-then we could use it to build our canoe,” he says.

Pedro Romero, an assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah, guided Keetch’s project. The greatest benefit to this type of research, he says, is in allowing students to have hands-on experience in the design of construction materials and to be able to interact with the local industry. “All materials used in construction have both good and bad characteristics that must be balanced to reach the final product,” Romero says. “No amount of classroom time can teach this concept. While this project was for a canoe to be used in a national competition, the application of this research in thin-shell, lightweight Portland cement concrete can be used in many real-life structures such as tunnels, domes and water reservoirs.”