Science Students Present Summer Research Projects

This summer, Houghton students worked with science faculty to conduct research in biology, biochemistry, and physics as part of Houghton’s Summer Research Institute.

Biology: Studying Bacteria Hosted by the Northern Pitcher Plant

Stephen Freire ’20 and Kristi Hartmann ’21 presented their research on the microbial community within the northern pitcher plant. The research, done in partnership with Professor Jamie Potter, involved morphological data, biochemical testing, and DNA extraction in order to identify and classify the bacteria they discovered. They studied samples from old and young plants, since the bacterial community in the northern pitcher plant undergoes changes over time. Freire and Hartmann identified biochemical data on 38 different organisms, refined their DNA extraction protocol, and preserved frozen bacterial cultures for further work by next year’s Summer Research Institute participants.

Biochemistry: “Spray-Painting” Biological Molecules to Understand Their Structure

Ellirose Edwards ’20, Hyeok Kim ’21, and Gavin Luckey ’22 worked as a team with Professor Paul Martino to study the use of mass spectrometry to assess the structural features of amino acids. The three students presented their research, which focuses on a novel method involving rapid carbene gas labeling followed by mass spectrometry. According to Martino, “The technique is analogous to spray-painting folded paper then examining where the paint is and isn’t to infer how the paper was folded.” This strategy is aimed to help examine amino acids that have eluded classification via other methods.

Physics: Observing Nuclear Fusion Reactions Generated by High-Powered Lasers

Sonny Ferri ’21, Tyler Kowalewski ’21, and Steven Raymond ’20 presented their intertial confinement fusion research, performed alongside physics professor Mark Yuly and a collaboration of scientists from SUNY Geneseo and the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). The project aims to develop techniques for using inertial confinement fusion to study fundamental nuclear science. In internal confinement fusion, beams of energy are shot at a tiny capsule of fuel, using lasers from all sides. This allows lower-energy reactions to be created and observed with greater precision than with a particle accelerator.

Physics: Using X-Ray Diffraction to Study Imperfections in Thin Silver Films

Richard Davis ’21, Junior Langa ’20, Jared Malone ’21, and Nathaniel Zedomi ’21 presented their physics research studying imperfections in thin silver films. Under the guidance of physics professor Brandon Hoffman, these students collaborated with Shefford Baker at the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) at Cornell University.

According to the students, applications of thin films include solar panels and small integrated circuits. Today’s technology requires the use of metal films with thicknesses of only a few hundred nanometers or less. The properties of these films are greatly affected by imperfections that form in the crystal structure when the film is produced. The students used X-ray diffraction (XRD) to study the formation of one common imperfection, called a stacking fault, which has been shown to be a driving force for the growth of large crystal grains in the film.

The Summer Research Institute allows 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.