Summer research a staple of a Union education

Publication Date

Jacob LaRocca ’12 is passionate about electronics and music. So when the electrical engineering major had the opportunity to integrate his loves for his summer research project, he didn’t miss a beat.


LaRocca’s creations include digital tap dancing shoes which he performed in during the Steinmetz Symposium and which he hopes to patent one day. LaRocca has also developed an electro-acoustic trombone that harmonizes with itself and a device that shoots out four-foot sparks that create sound.

LaRocca’s project encompasses the method and process of making such electronic instruments. He conducts much of his research and musical experimentation in the pristine music sound lab of the new Wold Center.

“The possibilities are endless,” said LaRocca, founder and president of the Nott Noisemakers, Union’s pep band. He’s also involved in the jazz band, orchestra and theater. “I want more music. I can’t get enough of it.”

LaRocca is among 110 students, whose majors range from biology to mechanical engineering to visual arts, participating in Union’s summer research program. Rising first years, sophomores and juniors are sponsored by a faculty member for independent projects, which are financed by the College or through private funding sources such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Dreyfus Foundation.

“Our students and faculty are engaged in a wide variety of projects, reflecting a campus where research in all disciplines is valued," said Kristin Fox, director of Undergraduate Research. “Working closely with a faculty member allows students to explore their interests and gain experience in the application of the concepts and skills they have learned in their courses.”

Aviva Rutkin ’12 hopes her study of language acquisition will shed light on how to close the gap between system and human language use.

Rutkin analyzed the success rate of human utterances for navigation in a virtual environment in order to program a computer to issue similar commands. A neuroscience major, Rutkin’s research represents her work in the Seward Interdisciplinary Fellows program, which allows undergraduates to develop their own minors that explore connections among disciplines.

Matthew Wilk ’12 works daily with copper complexes, studying their interaction with DNA to test for their potential chemotherapeutic abilities. A biochemistry major, he plans to extend his summer project to his senior thesis.

“Everyone’s affected by cancer,” he said. “My research has some real-world applications, making it easy for others to be excited about it, too.”

Sujana Adhikari ’12, a mathematics major, is investigating whether consulting firms take their own advice. Her research involves comparing the plans these firms develop for clients to the plans they implement themselves. The differences she’s discovered frequently favor the consulting firm. Adhikari hopes that her research will lead to the application of stricter rules to firms, which would ultimately benefit the client.

For a list of summer projects, click here.