Research symposium draws students

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February 21, 2011

10:36 PM

Lab rats came out to play at the College of William and Mary’s 17th annual Undergraduate Science Symposium, held Saturday at the Sadler Center.

Sponsored by the Charles Center and organized by Libby Neidenbach, the center’s graduate assistant, the event was open for undergraduate students to present their research in the hard sciences. 123 students took advantage of the opportunity to discuss their honors theses or laboratory group findings via oral reports and poster presentations.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for students to talk to their peers about their research,” Neidenbach said. “Some students are planning on graduate school, and they’ll probably present at larger conferences in the future. It’s a good low-key way to practice.”

One symposium participant, Clare LeGuyader ’11, is indeed headed to a graduate school program in chemistry next year. Students crowded around the poster she and Desmarie Sherwood ’13 created about their research regarding rhodamine-derivated dyes and the detection of mercury. LeGuyader said she appreciated the fact that the event allowed her friends a chance to learn about her lab work.

“My friends are always asking, ‘what do you do in lab?’” she said. “Here my friends can see what’s going on in my research.”

The symposium was well attended by science faculty members, who mingled with their students and colleagues, discussing each other’s latest findings. Among the professors present were Margaret Saha and Mark Forsyth, whose 2008 freshman research lab discovered a new species of bacteriophage in the Crim Dell. Their findings were published last month in the journal PLoS One.

“It is truly stunning what our undergraduates are able to do,” Saha said. “I don’t think there’s another university in the state that has this caliber of undergraduate research. This is first rate research.”

Forsyth agreed, and said the symposium gave many students their first opportunity to present research in a public setting.

“It’s a really good place to start,” he said. “It’s always good to walk before you run, [to] present for scientists who understand it and people who are educated but don’t understand the particular science.”

Chemistry Professor John Poutsma, looking proudly around the crowded hall, summed up the general sentiment of the afternoon.

“This is one of the best things we do here,” he said.

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