Dr. Wei Hu (middle), professor of math and computer science and director of the Houghton College Summer Research Institute working with students on a research project.
Dr. Wei Hu (middle), professor of math and computer science and director of the Houghton College Summer Research Institute working with students on a research project.
Author: Jessica Guillory
Date: May 12, 2016
Categories: Biology|Chemistry|Computer Science|Data Science|Mathematics|Physics

Best College Reviews names Houghton College’s Summer Research Institute (SRI) as one of the Top 50 Best College Summer Programs in the nation with a ranking of 39, joining Ivy League schools such as Columbia and Yale.

The colleges were ranked based on the following: amount of stipend or money received – 30 percent; accommodations, meals and supplies – 30 percent; diversity and uniqueness of program(s) – 30 percent; and number of students who can participate – 10 percent.

The program must be intended for current undergraduates and should be unique and interesting, not just summer classes, and last at least four weeks.

Houghton’s SRI, now in its 10th year, involves both the natural sciences and mathematics departments, bringing together motivated physics, chemistry, biology, math and computer science students into a more intense research environment and allowing students to interact with faculty in a much more collaborative sense than in the classroom setting.

This hands-on, application-driven program 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.

“Quality undergraduate instruction cannot be confined to the study of well-established theories,” said Dr. Wei Hu, professor of math and computer science and director of the SRI.  “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.”

In this institute, faculty and students work together on research projects to provide students with learning through research. 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 faculty and students alike.      

Dr. Kurt Aikens, assistant professor of physics, and Houghton students Dan Eager and Tim Powers will work on a project titled “Validation of the gFR High-Order Unstructured CFD Methodology” at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. They will be collaborating with NASA researcher Jim DeBonis and the LTN/Inlets and Nozzles branch to help test and validate a new computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software called gFR.

Long term, the software will be used to predict flowfields for advanced aeropropulsion systems and help NASA researchers meet the Transformational Tools and Technologies Project's challenge to “identify and down-select critical turbulence, transition, and numerical method technologies for 40% reduction in predictive error against standard test cases for turbulent separated flows, evolution of free shear flows, and shock boundary layer interactions on state-of-the-art high performance computing hardware.”

Dr. Rebecca Williams, assistant professor of biology, will be working with four students from the biology department: Seema Johnson, Teri Koetsier, Theresa Taggart and Kayla Miller.  Together, they will be working towards estimating local pollution levels based on metabolic enzyme quantification in catfish, specifically the brown bullhead. Their goal is to capture fish from both clean and contaminated across western New York and measure levels of CYP1A protein, a useful bioindicator of pollution levels, which is prevalent in the liver tissue of these fish. 

Brandon Hoffman, associate professor of physics, will be involved in two projects. He and two students, Heather Phillips and Yan Tang, will be collaborating with Shefford Baker at the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) at Cornell University to study thin silver films. Hoffman has been researching silver films with Baker since 2006.

Today’s technology requires the use of metal films with thicknesses of only a few hundred nanometers or less. Not much is known about the properties of materials this small, and the present models do not accurately describe the films. The goal of their experiments will be to improve the general model that describes similar thin metal films.

Hoffman, along with student Jonathan Ballard, will also be collaborating with Joe Kellogg of Kellogg’s Research Labs on a study of nitinol microstructures. Nitinol has a very peculiar property called “shape memory.” This means that a given shape can be programmed into a nitinol wire. If the wire is later bent into a different shape, it will return to the programmed shape when heated.

Research is being conducted to use nitinol wires to convert daily atmospheric temperature changes into electrical power. The present project aims to further develop these power generators by studying the nitinol microstructures with Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), X-ray Diffraction (XRD), and Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC).

Hu and students Michael Ganger and Ethan Duryea will be working on a project titled “Hierarchical Deep Reinforcement Learning.” Deep learning provides computational models with multiple processing layers to learn representations of data with multiple levels of abstraction, which is particularly useful in processing high-dimensional data in machine learning. It was listed as one of the top 10 breakthrough technologies in 2013 by MIT technology review. In their summer research, Hu, Ganger and Duryea will work to create new deep reinforcement learning algorithms.

Dr. Jamie Potter, assistant professor of biology, along with students Robert Marak and Mary Hollenbeck, will be studying Grapevine leafroll-associated viruses, one of the most prevalent and destructive plant pathogens affecting grapevine Vitis vinifera industries around the world. 

Their project will involve the continuation of the investigation of RNA plant viruses, focusing on Grapevine leafroll-associated viruses, in Vitis vinifera and related Vitis species through collection and analysis of plant samples from western New York vineyards and adjacent wild cultivars through macroarray analysis. 

Dr. Aaron Sullivan, associate professor of biology, and students Emilia Gildemeister and Erica Barney will be participating in a collaborative study to assess biodiversity along a 322 kilometer section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in northern California. 

This study will serve as a “barometer of biodiversity” and will facilitate a long-term assessment of animal distributions as well as possible altitudinal and latitudinal shifts in response to climate change. The overall goal of the project is to document, predict and explain patterns in biological diversity as well as to inform conservation planning.

Houghton physics professor Dr. Mark Yuly, along with students Katelyn Cook and Micah Coates, will be working on a project titled “Direct Measurement of Short-Lived Isotope Half-Lives” at the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). LLE is one of the few laboratories in the world for studying inertial confinement fusion. At LLE, 60 extremely high-powered lasers deposit a large amount of energy into a small pellet of nuclear fuel, triggering a nuclear fusion explosion that releases energy and radiation. One component of this radiation is an extremely short and intense burst of neutrons.  

Yuly, Cook and Coates will collaborate with scientists from SUNY Geneseo and LLE to develop novel ways to use these neutrons to carry out nuclear physics measurements that are unfeasible using previously available techniques. In particular, the intensity and short duration of the pulse makes these neutrons ideal for measuring the half-lives of extremely short-lived radioisotopes. The goal for this summer is to carry out the preliminary experimental design and feasibly tests for a full-scale experiment next summer.