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Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2007 * Feature Articles Awards & Grants Recent Patents Accolades
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Research isn’t just for professors or Ph.D. students. Here at Rensselaer, undergraduates are encouraged to investigate any project that interests them. Whether they participate through classes, part-time jobs, or special programs set up for research projects, our undergraduates enjoy the perks of working alongside some of the world’s leading researchers.

Audio Summary: “Student Research”
MP3 file version
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* Jennifer Whiting
Jennifer Whiting, Class of ’09
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Jennifer Whiting
Junior
Major: Biology
Minor: General Psychology

Jen Whiting became interested in undergraduate research while taking a Genetics and Evolution course. She had always toyed with the idea of having a career in genetics, but had little previous experience in that area. The topic of genetic disorders and their causes grabbed her attention, so she contacted her professor, Fern Finger, for a position in her laboratory. And she got one.

In the lab, Whiting is visualizing neurons to determine if the polybasic region is important for normal development of the nervous system. She says that research is not what she expected it to be, but that it has far exceeded her expectations. “It’s very different from a classroom laboratory, where every step is written in the instructions handed to you. You have much more freedom to exercise your mind for problem solving.”

Whiting found it rewarding to put the knowledge she gained through classes to practical use, and said, “I can’t tell you how often I say to myself, ‘Wow, I learned all about how this technique works, and now I’m actually doing it!’” She’s also learned to problem solve in a realistic laboratory setting, where experiments don’'t always go as easily as they should.

Whiting says other advantages to performing research as an undergraduate include adding skills to her resume and networking into the research community at RPI. “It’s great to have Dr. Finger to go to for advice on graduate schools and career paths, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to work in her laboratory as an undergraduate,” she said. “I think high school kids should definitely know about the awesome research opportunities available to them at RPI, in all majors!”

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* Stephanie Tomasulo
Stephanie Tomasulo, Class of ’08
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Stephanie Tomasulo
Senior
Major: Physics
Minor: Brain and Behavior

Stephanie Tomasulo came to RPI knowing what she wanted to do.

“I always really liked doing hands on projects and got into physics mainly for the research aspect of it,” she said. “It’s very interesting to be able to predict how something will happen and then test to see if that is actually what happens.”

As a sophomore in the department of physics, applied physics, and astronomy, Tomasulo applied to NSF REU (National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates) programs at various colleges. She was accepted to the NSF REU program offered by RPI, which she said was a lot of hard work.

“But it’s worth it because it’s fun hard work,” she said.

Her latest summer research resulted in a paper she’ll present at an upcoming Materials Research Society meeting. Her research involved testing materials for green lasers developed in Rensselaer’s Future Chips Constellation.

This semester she is performing semiconductor spectroscopy work on solar cell materials and she is working on fuel cells.

Tomasulo also says that research allows her to understand classroom materials in a deeper, more meaningful way. “I learn a lot of concepts in class and do what I need to do in order to do well in these classes, but the material really sinks in once you apply it to something. For example, I learned a lot in my optics class, but after actually working with optical setups I began to really understand the material and was able to apply it to different situations.”

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“Undergraduate Student Research”
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