posted July 12, 2011

“SURF” Celebrates Science Research Summer

Superlatives don't come around every day, and when they do a bit of celebrating is in order.

A bit of celebrating is in order when superlatives are a tradition, too.  On Thursday, July 7, the largest summer research program in the nation in the natural and applied sciences among primarily liberal arts institutions marked another active season with the sixth annual SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Function) undergraduate research celebration at the Haworth Inn and ConferenceCenter.

Some 165 students have conducted research collaboratively on more than 68 projects with nearly 50 members of the natural and applied sciences faculty at Hope this summer.  The total includes not only Hope students but also 23 students from other colleges and universities as well as 15 area high school students who participated through Project REACH (Research Experience Across Cultures at Hope).  The REACH representation also included four high school teachers.

Those attending this year's SURF event included the students who conducted research this summer as well as their faculty mentors, including 24 students and four faculty members from psychology and nine students from the Hope Entrepreneurship Initiative (HEI).  Other members of the campus community, and friends of the college and community leaders.

Highlights of the evening included presentations by students who have been conducting research in each of the eight departments of the natural and applied sciences division as well as through HEI.  The student presenters were:

Biology:  senior Dan Smith of Tekonsha, who has been researching "Trafficking of Membrane Transport System" with Dr. Leah Chase-Wallar, associate professor of biology and chemistry;

Chemistry:  senior Kyle Brubaker of Alto, who has been researching "New Materials for Devices" with Dr. Elizabeth Sanford, associate professor of chemistry, and senior Xisen Hou of Qindao, Shandong, who has been researching "Chemically Modified Electrodes" with Dr. Kenneth Brown, associate professor of chemistry;

Computer Science:  sophomore Tim Lewis of South Haven, who has been researching "Algorithms for Graph Pebbling" with Dr. Charles Cusack, assistant professor of computer science;

Engineering:  junior Johanna Forst of Gibbon, Minn., who has been researching "Electrical Stimulation of Sensation" with Dr. Katharine Polasek, assistant professor of engineering;

Geological and Environmental Sciences:  senior Leah LaBarge of Hudsonville, who has been researching "Modeling Plant Population Dynamics in Sand Dunes" with Dr. Edward Hansen, professor of geology and environmental science;

HEI:  engineering major junior Scott Brandonisio of Detroit, who is co-developing, with junior Ryan Core of Hammond, Wis., a product that emits "white noise" and blocks light to help those in distracting environments sleep, mentored by Garrick Pohl;

Mathematics:  senior James Halsall of SUNY-Farmingdale, who has been researching "Insect Development in a Changing Climate" with Dr. Brian Yurk, assistant professor of mathematics, and Dr. Aaron Putzke, assistant professor of biology;

Nursing:  seniors Lien Brusselmans of Plainwell and Michael Sit of Riverside, Ill., who have been researching "Exercise, Hopelessness, and Depression in Heart Disease" with Dr. Susan Dunn, associate professor of nursing and chairperson of the department;

Physics:  junior Andrew McCubbin of Galesburg, who has been researching "Fundamental Radioactive Ion Beam Studies of Exotic Nuclei" with Dr. Paul DeYoung, who is the Kenneth G. Herrick Professor of Physics and chairperson of the department, and Dr. Graham Peaslee, who is the Elmer E. Hartgerink Professor of Chemistry and chairperson of the department and a professor of geology/environmental science.

Prior to the student presentations, Dr. Donald Williams, professor emeritus of chemistry, shared images of signs that are unintentionally humorous, drawing upon a collection that he has been developing for several years.

The welcome was by Dr. Moses Lee, who is professor of chemistry and dean for the natural and applied sciences, and by Kurt Dykstra, mayor of Holland.  The invocation was by Sasha Balcazar, a sophomore from West Olive.

Learning through research has been a teaching philosophy at the college for more than half a century.  The late Dr. Gerrit Van Zyl, who taught chemistry at the college from 1923 to 1964, is widely recognized for developing research-based learning at Hope in its modern sense.  More than 100 years ago, biologist Dr. Samuel O. Mast had designed research laboratory space for the college's Van Raalte Hall, which opened in 1903.

Hope has received recognition in a variety of ways through the years for its success in teaching through collaborative faculty-student research, and for the high quality of the research itself.

Hope holds five awards through the National Science Foundation's "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" program, in biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and physics. Among all institutions nationwide, including major research universities, only 20 hold more of the grants.  Overall in terms of NSF support, Hope received the sixth-highest total in funding in 2010 out of all institutions in Michigan, surpassed only by five Ph.D.-granting universities.

Since the category debuted in 2003, the "America's Best Colleges" guide published by "U.S. News and World Report" has included Hope on its listing of approximately three dozen institutions that it cites as exceptional for their emphasis on undergraduate research and creative projects. The guide also includes Hope among the top 100 national liberal arts colleges in the U.S.

Among other recognitions historically, in 1998 Hope was one of only 10 liberal arts institutions in the nation to be recognized for innovation and excellence in science instruction by the NSF with an "Award for the Integration of Research and Education" (AIRE), and in 1994 Project Kaleidoscope named the program in the natural applied sciences a "Whole Program That Works"--a model for other institutions to emulate.

Based on the college's proven history of excellence, the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) chose Hope to present the national webinar "Transformational Learning through Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance" on Tuesday, April 12, in conjunction with national Undergraduate Research Week.  It was CUR's most popular webinar ever, with colleges and universities across the country participating.