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Students Present Projects at National Research Conference


Among the many undergraduate research opportunities that MCLA students enjoy is the chance to present their work at the National Council of Undergraduate Research (NCUR) conference, which was held this spring at the University of Memphis in Tennessee.

This year, two faculty – Dr. Justin Golub, chair of undergraduate research at MCLA and an assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Jenna Sciuto, associate chair of undergraduate research and an assistant professor of English/Communications – traveled to NCUR with three students; English/Communications major Bryanna Bradley ’17 (pictured right, in the center), biology and computer science major Daniel Heinen ’18 (left), and computer science major Peter Chase ’18 (right).

“Undergraduate research is a rewarding experience for students,” said Golub.  “Students get to see an idea from start to finish, and the opportunity to present their research is a culmination of their hard work.”  

Bradley presented an interactive dance, “The (Hi)stories of African American Improv Traditions,” which started with the slave plantation dance, Juba, and ended with the contemporary Milly Rock.

For this project, she used dance as a text to exhibit the circular and reappearing nature of these traditions.

“African American improv traditions use the physical body as an expression of self, a connection to diaspora, and a creation of ground-breaking movements. (Hi)stories is defined in this presentation as the complexly layered lives of individuals in relation to historical accounts,” Bradley explained.  “… Throughout the African American experience, improvisational techniques, vocalizations, music, and the physical body share (hi)stories of blackness.”

Chase and Heinen presented their research on “Augmented Reality in Chemistry,” for which they aim to use modern advances in augmented reality technology to enhance textbooks. The project allows students to use mobile, hand-held devices such as cell phones or tablets to view three dimensional models in a manner in which they appear to be part of the physical world to make textbook lessons more immersive.

“One of the challenges in teaching is the fact that some students learn differently than others,” Heinen said. “While one method of teaching may work for one student, it may be ineffective for another. We aim to solve this problem by taking a different approach. With the advent of modern virtual reality technology, we now have the ability to create rich immersive experiences that integrate auditory, visual, and even physical elements.”

For the project, Heinen and Chase built a virtual reality chemistry laboratory that allows students to learn principles of both organic and inorganic chemistry. Taking the newest virtual reality technology (an HTC VIVE headset), paired with a 3D game engine, they created an environment that could have a high level of scientific accuracy, as well as interactivity. Leap Motion hand tracking technology integrated human hands into their simulations to allow a higher level of interactivity and create an experience that is closer to a physical reality.

“It was rewarding as a professor to watch the students excel in the professional conference setting,” Sciuto said. “From fielding questions to networking, they were really in their element."

Golub agreed, “Being able to present their work at a national conference is very rewarding. Students interact with peers and faculty from all over the country, getting feedback and exchanging ideas.”