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Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2007 * Feature Articles Awards & Grants Recent Patents Accolades
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Undergraduate Student Research
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.
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* Matt Harrigan
Matt Harrigan, Class of ’08
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Matthew Harrigan
Senior
Major: Physics

Matt Harrigan went looking for undergraduate research opportunities, and found a program that let him look for something even bigger — tidal streams of stars in the Milky Way.

Under Professor Heidi Newburg, Harrigan uses spectra of hot A-type stars in the Galactic spheroid from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to complete his research.

“I started research here so that I could get an idea of what to expect once I left college and moved on to bigger and better things,” he said. “With this in mind I started looking for research opportunities for undergraduates.”

He didn’t have to look far. The department of physics, applied physics, and astronomy offers a summer REU program. Harrigan’s advisor highly recommended it. So did his fellow students.

“I thought that it would be a great opportunity for me to be involved in research where I could apply what I have learned in class,” he said.

Research is quite different from what he initially expected. “I have much more freedom and independence than I thought I would.”

He says one of the most useful things he’s gained from the experience is a more in depth perspective of the college-research working environment. “People in different areas of research will have different experiences whilst working in their field. The astrophysics field as a whole tends to involve smaller working groups,” he said, citing that as one of the reasons for freedom and independence.

And of course, “I have a better idea of what I would like to do and accomplish after I graduate.”

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* Emma Furlano
Emma Furlano, Class of ’09
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Emma Furlano
Junior
Major: Biology

One undergraduate researcher builds on the work of another.

Proteins can be tricky. The exact function of Serum amyloid A, or SAA, is unknown, but its presence is implicated in many diseases, such as heart attacks, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Vera Valakh, now a Neuroscience Ph.D. student at Washington University, started a project as an undergraduate researcher here at Rensselaer, and showed that SAA is required for cholesterol transport.

Her graduation left an opening in the lab of Patrick Page-McCaw, Assistant Professor of Biology. This year, Valakh’s SAA work is continued by Emma Furlano. The sophomore had asked Page-McCaw, her adviser, about undergraduate research.

“I had wanted to complete research as an undergraduate, in order to decide if I want to go with the research route with my biology degree,” Furlano said. “My adviser had an opening in his lab and his research was interesting to me so I joined.”

Working in the lab gave her basic research skills, as well as the chance to work with genes, especially those that have an influence on the body’s neurological system, which interested her greatly. Working in a lab also differed from some of Furlano’s expectations.

“I thought that I would be supervised more then I am,” she said. “Once I know something, I can go off and do my own work, and am not being constantly shadowed. Also, I can make suggestions and ask questions to my professor that I work under, without fear of appearing to be ignorant.

Furlano cites many advantages lab work gives her.

“I am learning how to time manage, by having to schedule my lab work, schoolwork, and social life. I am also learning many lab techniques, such as completing florescence stains. I am figuring how to take my theoretical knowledge and apply it practical situations. Finally, I am becoming more adept at taking my research and creating strong arguments for its validity during my lab presentations,” she said.

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“Undergraduate Student Research”
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