Posted on Jul 29, 2010

Each morning this summer, Hannah Ryan ’12 reports to a lab in the basement of the F.W. Olin Center. There, she huddles most of the day with her partner, a micro-raman spectroscope, an impressive instrument that allows Ryan to examine individual pigment grains in an artist’s paint mixture.

Hannah Ryan '12 summer research 2010

The three lasers in the microscope, capable of collecting spectra from samples as small as 100 micrometers, help Ryan compare these spectra with published works. The goal is to create a searchable library of pigment spectra that can help art conservators identify paint in works of art.

The pairing of a biology major employing principles of physics to examine art works is just one of the dozens of projects Union students are carrying out this summer.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Ryan, of Kensington, Md. “I enjoy working with (physics) professor Seyfollah Maleki, who has been extremely supportive. It’s a great way to spend the summer.”

Research is a tradition at Union, and students across all academic departments have opportunities for in-depth, hands-on research of the type usually reserved for graduate students.

“Having students and faculty working together closely in the summer creates a vibrant atmosphere on campus,” said Kristin Fox, director of Undergraduate Research. “Students get the chance to focus on one area of interest for several weeks, and to see how much they enjoy this kind of approach. They also have the opportunity to present the results of their work to their peers and other faculty at seminars on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Explaining their work to others prepares students to be successful in whatever they decide to do after graduation.”

Kristin Fox, director of Undergraduate Research

Across campus and beyond this summer, students are engaged in a diverse mix of nearly 120 projects. Of these, about half are funded internally with a faculty member, through the Union College Summer Research Fellowships, Summer Scholars Program and Future Professors Program. The other half is supported by individual grants to faculty members or departments, or foundation support.

Jonathan Griffin ’11 is working with geology professor Donald Rodbell to monitor the geomorphologic and paleoenvironmental change in Glacier National Park in Montana. Scott Power ’11 is researching the effects of the WPA on Schenectady County with Andrew Morris, assistant professor of history. Under the guidance of Peter Bedford, the John and Jane Wold Professor of Religious Studies, Andrea Meyers ’11 is examining U.S. foreign relations with Israel and the perception of Palestine.

In addition to the academic benefits, summer research has also given students a social perk.

Steven Gacin '12 summer research 2010

“I’m getting a chance to meet and work with professors and students I didn’t know before,” said Steven Gacin ’12, as he peered through a Kruss drop shape analyzer in the aerogels lab. A mechanical engineering major from Providence, R.I., Gacin is studying the fabrication and characterization of hydrophobic aerogels with his advisor, Ann Anderson, the Agnes S. McDonald Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

“It’s been a great experience,” Gacin said.

For a look at some of the projects students are working on this summer, click here.

To learn more about undergraduate research at Union, click here.