April 11, 2018
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will hold its 16th Annual Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) on Thursday, April 19, from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. This year, 220 students, mentored by 45 faculty members, will offer 146 presentations, which will include performances, artwork, paper presentations and posters – during the all-day conference.
This event, which showcases research projects in a variety of disciplines, is free and open to the public.
Paper presentations and special sessions will take place in Bowman Hall, and posters will be displayed and presented in the Venable Hall Gymnasium. Special art exhibits will be displayed throughout the day on the third floor of Bowman Hall, and a creating writing session will be held in the afternoon, in Murdock Hall room 218.
The conference also will feature a self-guided art tour around campus, which will be available all day. In addition, the Philosophy Mini Conference will take place in Murdock Hall, room 218.
Dr. Justin Golub, URC chair, said undergraduate research is an important part of an MCLA education.
“Undergraduate research allows students to become critical thinkers, and apply the skills they have developed to their project. The Undergraduate Research Conference is an opportunity for students to shine,” Golub said.
This year’s keynote speaker will be James Chapman ’15, who earned double bachelor’s degrees in math and physics at MCLA. He is pursuing his Ph.D at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he is studying materials science and engineering.
He will speak on “Materials Informatics: A Fresh Perspective from the Past,” at 12:30 p.m. in the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium. In addition to discussing his work, Chapman – who participated in two MCLA undergraduate research conferences as an undergraduate – will speak about the research he conducted at the College with Dr. Elizabeth Hartung, assistant professor of mathematics.
Chapman’s ultimate goal is to design an automated system that can discover new materials with no human input, eliminating most of the cost and time to design new materials. During his first semester of graduate school, he joined a research group that focused on designing new materials at the atomic level with the use of machine learning, and immediately major contributions by designing software that interfaced the use of machine learning with large-scale atomic simulation software.

As part of his Ph.D program, Chapman continues work he conducted at the Los Alamos National Lab, where he was a visiting researcher in fall 2017. At Los Alamos, he worked with a theoretical materials group that looked at diffusion mechanisms on metal surfaces.

“Atoms on a metal surface can take a variety of different paths to move around,” Chapman explained. “The problem is, the paths are often very complex, so it’s difficult to predict which ones are more likely than others. I worked to use our machine learning force fields to help with these predictions.”

The math and physics Chapman studied at MCLA are essential to his work. “The advanced math courses I took gave me a solid foundation for understanding the mathematics behind not only the physics and chemistry at play here, but also the machine learning, which is entirely advanced statistics and calculus.
“My physics background helps me analyze and understand the results I get from the molecular dynamics simulations. I was required to take several computer science courses as part of the math major, but I took several more because I enjoyed coding,” Chapman added. “The C++ course I took at MCLA was extremely valuable.”
The conference is part of the College’s Undergraduate Research Program, which emphasizes individual opportunities for student work with faculty. For more information, including descriptions of all projects and presentations, go to

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth's public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.