Students present research at AAAS conference

Ph.D. student Shannon McCarragher (right) discusses her research with Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman.

Ph.D. student Shannon McCarragher (right) discusses her research with Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Lisa Freeman.

Thirteen NIU students displayed posters of their research recently during the prestigious annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.

The AAAS is an international non-profit organization with a mission to promote cooperation among scientists, defend scientific freedom, encourage scientific responsibility and support scientific education and outreach. Every year, thousands of leading scientists, engineers, educators, policy makers and journalists from around the world gather at the annual meeting to discuss developments in science and technology.

NIU students were encouraged to apply to present their research or volunteer to work at the conference. Student researchers received feedback and critiques from judges and shared their work with the general public as well.

Senior biology major Evan Wittke presented his research on human liver cancer and the sometimes harmful effects of therapies such as chemotherapy.

Evan Wittke

Evan Wittke

“We are looking to discover more effective and targeted means of treating cancer that won’t cause patients to experience side effects like hair loss,” Wittke said.

Like all the other student presenters, Wittke spoke to scientists, non-scientists, journalists and even a group of high school students.

“I received a lot of interesting responses, and people were probably taken aback because they don’t really think of NIU as a cancer research institution,” Wittke said. “Contrary to that belief, there is a big interest on campus.”

The AAAS meeting featured a wide variety of informational sessions and workshops on topics ranging from science communication to science entrepreneurship.

“I got the most out of the professional development workshops geared toward improving the communication of science,” said Shannon McCarragher, a Ph.D. student in geography. “As scientists we often have a disconnect with getting information across to other scientists and people. Learning about how to deliver messages in an understandable and accessible way was very valuable to me.”

McCarragher presented a poster on her research, examining how the invasive Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) shrub spread to Nachusa Grasslands, a 3,100-acre natural prairie preserve south of Oregon, Ill. She also is studying the impact that the shrub is having on the local population of white oak trees.

Ellen Raimondi looks over her research poster during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ellen Raimondi looks over her research poster during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Disa Patel, an NIU graduate student in public health, presented on her research, conducted in Indonesia last summer. The work assesses traffic-related exposure to air pollution.

“Some of the aspects of my research involve comparing the results of people who ride motorcycles, cars or trucks and analyzing their dose based on factors like gender and weight,” said Patel, who also volunteered to work at the conference.

Patel encourages other students to get involved in the AAAS meetings in the future and take advantage of opportunities to present research, network and learn more about developments in science.

“Volunteering was definitely worth it when it came to being able to see all the different seminars,” Patel said. “Students who aren’t really into the hard sciences should not be deterred from attending because there are many elements of social science that appeal to different crowds and interests.”

Other NIU students presenting research posters at the AAAS annual meeting included Eden Anderson, Steve Boi, Taylor Dupre, Alex Ekstrom, Nicholas Kirchner, Mercedes McWaters, Ashlyn Shellito, Josh Wardwell, Ellen Raimondi and Mai Thao.

More information about the AAAS Annual meeting is available online.

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