On a recent rainy afternoon in the Viniar Athletic Center, Genesis Santana ’21 shot a series of free throws on one of the side baskets. She hit on some, missed on others.
Nearby, Jonathan Marr, senior lecturer in physics and astronomy, dutifully filmed each one of Santana’s shots. When the 30-minute session is over, the student and professor retreated to the physics lab to analyze the data.
“Taking into account her height (5-foot, 6-inches), we are trying to determine the angle and velocity of Genesis’s shot, and how to change it to go for the optimum shot,” he said.
The simple exercise is not just fun and games, though. With help from Marr, Santana is learning how the principles of physics apply to the science of basketball. The research will also form the basis of her senior thesis. Understanding Galileo, Newton and Magnus may not turn one into the next LeBron, but it may elevate one’s game.
“I watch a lot of basketball during my free time, and I thought it would be interesting to combine two things I like, physics and basketball, for a project,” said Santana, an interdepartmental major in physics and theater from the Bronx.
A year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced all summer research online, most students are back on campus to experience a staple of a Union education.
Santana is among 132 students in all disciplines who are engaged in research this summer. They are working closely with 65 faculty stretched across 21 departments and programs. Check out the list of summer research students and their projects.
Most projects are funded through the College’s undergraduate research program. Government or scientific society grants to faculty members, academic departments and foundation funding support the rest.
“Undergraduate research gives students a firsthand perspective on what it is like to make real discoveries, and begin to find answers to previously unknown questions,” said Heather Watson, director of undergraduate research and assistant professor of physics and astronomy.
“The research experience at Union gives students a chance to engage in a research environment similar to what they may encounter in some graduate programs, and helps them decide if this might be a career path they want to pursue. For all students, no matter what their career plans are, this research experience helps build confidence and independent thinking, sharpens problem-solving skills, and can provide practice in writing and giving presentations.”
When Santana is finished with the physics of basketball after four weeks, she will switch her focus for the next four weeks to Black history through the lens of August Wilson, one of America’s most acclaimed Black playwrights.
Santana will read each of the 10 plays Wilson wrote as part of his revered American Century Cycle, which depicted African-American life for each decade of the 20th century. The research will also contribute to Santana's other senior thesis. Her advisor is Dan Venning, assistant professor of theater and dance.
“I was introduced to 'Fences' in Professor Venning's American Dream on Stage class,” Santana said. “I'm looking forward to analyzing more of August Wilson's plays this summer.”
Working with Doug Klein and the Kelly Adirondack Center, Jacob Abbott ’23 is examining the history of dams and their impact on the landscape in the Adirondacks. He has created an interactive map that allows people to quickly explore the dams and share information. He plans to develop a website that will displaying all the dams and include information about their history.
“In the history of the Adirondacks the creation of dams has been a contested issue,” said Abbott, an environmental science major with a double minor in geology and data analytics. He is from Littleton, Co.
“Dams have a major impact on the people in the Adirondacks even if they don’t know it. Most waterways have them and they are a main reason for a lot of the Adirondacks success.”
Ava Bowen ’22 read “The Turn of the Screw,” an 1898 novella by Henry James, in a class with Jennifer Mitchell ’04, assistant professor of English. The novella tells the story of a governess who is hired to watch over two children in the haunted Bly Manor. For her summer project, Bowen is examining the varying connection between the reader and a book depending on the perspective of the reader experiencing it. This involves recognizing the important turning points in the plot where the readers may differ in connection and response as well as identifying what these responses are.
“I have been interested in what makes us want to read, how we read, and what we chose to read and why,” said Bowen, an English major from Rochester, N.Y. “Professor Mitchell has been a great mentor in teaching me how English is a field of research. When writing my midterm on the novella I felt that I was just covering the surface.”
A poster session highlighting many of the summer projects will held Friday, Aug. 6, in the atrium of the Integrated Science and Engineering Center. Additional details to follow.
To learn more about undergraduate research at Union, visit the website.