Author: Marshall Green
Categories: Biology|Chemistry|Computer Science|Mathematics|Physics

Houghton College will be conducting its Summer Research Institute 2014 (SRI 2014) throughout the coming summer months. The SRI brings together physics, chemistry, biology, math, and computer science professors and students into a more intense research environment than that of a traditional classroom.

“Houghton College is well-known for providing quality education in science and math,” commented Wei Hu, director of the Houghton Summer Research Institute. “One feature of our science and math programs is close-working relationships between faculty and students, both inside and outside the classroom.”

The SRI, which began in 2007, allows students to interact with faculty in a much more collaborative sense with a hands-on, application-driven program that benefits both students and faculty with deeper understanding of the specific subject of research and with an opportunity to combine skills learned in all facets of math and science toward a single goal.

Teaching at the SRI is not just delivering content to students, but rather a continuous intellectual exchange between the student and the professor. It is this bidirectional flow of ideas that has shown to provide an ideal environment for learning. Students must apply the knowledge learned from different courses to a single problem, thereby deepening their understanding of their academic disciplines. It is the collaborative nature of the research that provides mutual benefits to the faculty and students. It is through this process that many professors can learn how to most effectively teach and students learn how to learn. 

Hu further commented, “Quality undergraduate instruction cannot be confined to the study of well-established theories. It needs to touch the frontiers of different branches of science and math in order to provide our students with a clear vision for the future. It is for this purpose we have established the Houghton Summer Research Institute."

The scheduled SRI projects this summer are as follows:

Aaron Sullivan, associate professor of biology, along with Julia Dyer ’14 and Zachary Smith ’14 are continuing a line of research that investigates how antipredator responses to chemical cues from predators are fine-tuned by prey species. More specifically, this work will examine how prior experience with a predator as well as foraging success can influence Allegany Dusky Salamander defensive behavior.

Brandon Hoffman, assistant professor of physics, and three students; Kyle Flemington’15, Paul Lashomb ‘15, and Jonathon Yuly ’16, will collaborate with Shefford Baker at the Center for Materials Research at Cornell University to study thin silver films. Today’s technology requires the use of metal films with thicknesses of only a few hundred nanometers or less.

Jamie Potter, assistant professor of biology, will be working with two students, Mary Grace Hollenbeck ‘16 and Russell Levack ‘15, in collaboration with Dr. Keith Perry, associate professor at Cornell University’s department of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, on the detection of plant RNA viruses in grapevine.

Jun-Koo Park, assistant professor of mathematics, and two students, August Gula ’16 and RD Marek ‘16, will continue the study of the refined Gaussian Network Model for predicting the dynamics of biological structures.

Associate professor of chemistry, Karen Torraca, will work with two students this summer toward the development of a “green” synthetic method for the conversion of alcohols to ketones or aldehydes. The current standard synthetic processes require large amounts of heavy metals and generate a lot of hazardous environmental waste.

Mark Yuly, professor of physics, and two students, Laurel Vincett ’16 and Thomas Eckert ‘16, will be working with physicists from SUNY-Geneseo on research related to inertial confinement fusion.

Wei Hu, professor of math and computer science, and two students, Nathan Aston ‘14 and Jacob Hertzler ‘17, will create adaptive algorithms to identify local community structures to improve community detection in dynamic networks.

For more detailed explanations of the Houghton Summer Research Institute projects listed above, please visit