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Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2007 * Feature Articles Awards & Grants Recent Patents Accolades
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Nanotube Adhesive Sticks Better Than a Gecko's Foot
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Focus on Undergraduate Research From day one, Rensselaer students jump right in and tackle real questions and problems.
By Colleen Carey

Rensselaer’s Undergraduate Research Forum showcases a variety of research projects conducted in many areas of science and engineering. This year, forty-five student projects were displayed. Each school of the Institute was represented in one of two categories — applied design research or theoretical research. To participate, individual students and teams created a poster display of the research project and gave explanations to a panel of judges, made up of faculty from each of the schools.

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* Elizabeth Frank
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Theoretical Category: First Place
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Elizabeth Frank, Interdisciplinary Science major, for her project “Self Diffusion of Sulfur in Pyrite.” Institute Professor Bruce Watson, Earth and Enviromental Sciences, supervised.

Elizabeth Frank: Testing Our Assumptions About Ancient Life

In nature, there is a certain ratio among the isotopes of an element. When the ratio in a mineral differs from what is expected, it may be indicative of previous life. Such indications are known as biosignatures.

Biosignatures occur when organisms, such as bacteria, take compounds from their environment and use them in their metabolic processes, leaving behind elements in a dissimilar isotopic ratio.

It is assumed that these biosignatures are stable over geologic time — millions of years. Elizabeth Frank, a junior majoring in interdisciplinary science and minoring in astrobiology, set out to test this assumption.

She discovered that although there is a diffusive exchange of the isotopes over long periods of time, the amount of exchange is small enough that the biosignatures can indeed be considered stable.

Her project, “Self Diffusion of Sulfur in Pyrite” won first place in the theoretical category of the 2007 Undergraduate Research Forum and Awards.

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