Centre College students and faculty presented research on the national stage this April at the annual “Posters on the Hill” conference in Washington, D.C.
The event, which is hosted by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), is a highly selective event, with only 60 out of about 500 applicant groups being invited to participate.
Grace Anne Martin ’15, Liren Yu ’17 and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Leonard Demoranville traveled to D.C. to present a poster about their research on pesticide residue on imported fruits and vegetables. Lauren Moskowitz ’17 was also a part of the project, but she was unable to attend the convention in D.C.
Martin worked with Demoranville last summer, while Moskowitz and Yu have been working on the project with Demoranville for academic credit this year. They are among the 81 percent of Centre students who participate in research or internship opportunities, which is guaranteed through the Centre Commitment.
“This project is part of my larger research program,” Demoranville said. “Currently, the testing procedure for pesticide residue on imported fruits and vegetables is costly and lengthy. We are investigating whether ion mobility spectrometry, the instrument used in airports to detect explosives, can be used for the detection of small amounts of pesticides that have been applied topically to fruits and vegetables.
“The students have been working on characterizing and optimizing the instrument response for the pesticides we are interested in,” he continued.
The financial support for this project and the trip to D.C. primarily came from the support of donors to the College. Research was funded through Centre’s Faculty Development Committee and the Kresge Fund.
“In addition,” Demoranville said, “The trip wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the parents of current student Ceci Vollbrecht, who let us stay in their home just outside of D.C.”
The Centre delegation also met with Congressional representatives to discuss the importance of undergraduate research.
Meetings were held with Congressman Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and staff from the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
“The meetings with Congressional representatives is a key part of this conference,” Demoranville said. “CUR wants to be sure that our representation understand the importance of undergraduate research and encourage them to include it in federal funding opportunities.”
“Undergraduate research has been shown to have important student learning outcomes,” he continued. “It encourages students to stay engaged with their discipline, develops critical and creative thinking skills, and provides important career preparation.”
Martin and Yu conducted most of the presenting in both the poster exhibitions and in the Congressional offices.
“I was sort of hands off at the poster presentations, because I wanted Martin and Yu to have the opportunity to shine,” Demoranville said. “They had practiced enough for me to know they would do well. While I didn’t directly hear them present, I could tell that folks talking with them were engaged.
“I did, however, get to see them interact with the congressional staff during our meetings,” he continued. “They were able to present the research we are doing and explain its significance, while also emphasizing the importance of undergraduate research in a very eloquent way. It was obvious the message was being heard by the staff.”
by Anne Evans
May 4, 2015