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Summer love: Students and research a perfect match


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Chad Orzel, associate professor and chair of the Physics Department, works with Shauna LeFebvre '16 on her project. (Photos by Trevor Martin '14)Chemistry student Hannah Coffin '15 is conducting a high performance liquid chromatography analysis of sugars.Working with Hans-Friedrich Mueller, the William D. Williams Professor of Classics, Christian Garcia '14 is researching the role of gods and goddesses in ancient literature.Megan Dondarski '14 takes measurements as part of her research to test the follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) receptor.Kate Kaminski '14, along with Meghan Riehl '14, studied the tectonic evolution of the Chugach-Prince William terrain in southeast Alaska.Alistair Phaup '14 is working with Brad Lewis, professor of economics, on the modern money theory and the money supply efects of federal government debt.Rebecca Koopmann '89, professor of physics and astronomy, helps Michael Warrener '16 virtually navigate a galaxy.Rebecca Babiak '16 and Cameron Smith '16 are studying interferometry and aperture synthesis.
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“Summer's lease hath all too short a date,” William Shakespeare wrote.

Shauna LeFebvre '16 feels the same about her first summer research experience.

From the moment in early July when her advisor, Chad Orzel, associate professor and chair of the Physics Department, handed her the keys to a lab in the basement of the Science and Engineering Center, LeFebvre has enjoyed an almost giddy romance with her research.

"I've never had this much freedom before," the physics major from Cheshire, Mass, said while taking a break from her project one afternoon. Surrounded by instruments, including a diode laser, spectrometer and a voltmeter, she explained her project on Rayleigh scattering, the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light.

"I've always had a teacher standing over me telling me what to do. It's been a great experience to come in each day, meet with Professor Orzel to talk about what I'm doing right and wrong, and then going back and figuring things out for myself. I love it!"

LeFebvre is among more than 140 students across a multitude of disciplines working on summer research projects. About half of the student group is funded internally with a faculty member through the Union College Summer Research Fellowships and the Summer Scholars Program. The other half is supported by individual grants to faculty members or departments, or foundation support.

Union has long been committed to undergraduate research and since 1986, it has fostered close working relationships between thousands of students and faculty in the summer.

Kristin Fox, associate professor of chemistry and director of Undergraduate Research, said the number of applications for the program continues to rise each year.

"Summer research is a unique opportunity for students and professors to work closely together on a topic of mutual interest," she said. "Without classes and other activities to compete for their attention, students can really focus on one project. This allows them to have the experience of being an expert in their area of interest relative to their peers."

This year, students are conducting research on campus, in the nearby Adirondacks and in places as far away as Alaska. Two geology majors, Meghan Riehl '14 and Kate Kaminski 14, are studying the tectonic evolution of the Chugach-Prince William terrain in southeast Alaska with John Garver, geology professor. Part of their field work has taken them to remote and difficult to access areas, including on the Kenai Peninsula near Seward, Alaska. Company has often included grizzlies, seals and whales.

Christian Garcia '14, a classics and Japanese major from Brooklyn, spends most of his summer days in Lamont House or Schaffer Library, reading the Greek version of Homer's The Iliad or Lucan's Civil War in Latin. Working with Hans-Friedrich Mueller, the William D. Williams Professor of Classics, Garcia is researching the role of gods and goddesses in ancient literature as part of his thesis.

Garcia, who hopes to eventually work as a translator for the Japanese consulate, said the one-on-one mentoring and skills honed in conducting research have helped him immensely this summer.

"Language is a puzzle and in translating it, you have to pick up the pieces and put them together," he said. "I would have never been able to do any of this during the academic year. It would be too chaotic."

For a list of 2013 summer research students and their projects, click here.

To learn more about undergraduate research at Union, click here.