Undergraduate students at Northern Illinois University’s third annual Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day presented projects that may one day help cure cancer, provided insights that could reduce cyber-bullying and shed lights on ancient civilizations.
In all, the daylong event on Tuesday featured more than 240 students presenting164 projects. Participants represented all six undergraduate colleges, with faculty mentors drawn from 27 different departments. All tackled the type of projects that many universities reserve for graduate students.
“It’s exciting to see these students, many of them just freshmen and sophomores, participating in learning at the highest level,” said NIU President John Peters. “They are not just memorizing information from textbooks or lectures, but actually contributing new ideas to the existing body of knowledge. It’s an experience I would like all of our students to have.”
Participants spanned all four years of the undergraduate experience at NIU.
Freshman Joshua Nixon, of Chicago, was one of 14 first year students participating as part of the university’s Research Rookies program, which matches incoming students with faculty mentors who guide them through a research project. Nixon, an engineering student, was inspired by the University’s Vision 2020 plan.
“I was looking at President Peters Vision 2020 Plan and saw that they want to increase sustainability on campus,” he said. That got him thinking about creating bio diesel fuel using old cooking oil from the university’s cafeterias. Analyzing the possibilities, he mapped out a plan that could turn a profit in its second year and net hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings over the next two decades.
At the other end of the academic spectrum was Erik Curry, a December graduate who returned for the event while he applies to medical schools. His project was part of a large effort on campus aimed at finding a way to kill liver cancer cells.
“I feel really blessed. I never thought that I could be doing research like this as an undergraduate. It was really cool, and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than Dr. (Barrie) Bode,” said Curry, whose work was funded by a grant through NIU’s Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry and Research program.
Many other presentations were honor’s program capstone projects, engineering senior design projects or work done as part of the NIU Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship program and similar offerings.
Some participants spent the past year immersed in hands on projects – like the four engineering students who built a utility vehicle for the NIU ROTC program, or exploring new tools to help tennis coaches better instruct their pupils. Others engaged in less tangible research, presenting original research on things like the role of women in successful political uprisings, or the use of sign language by infants.
A collection of photos, videos and Tweets that give an idea of the diversity of the event can be found on the NIU Storify page.