15th Annual STEM Symposium celebrates science, technology, engineering and math.
In one corner of Rowan University’s Eynon Ballroom, Nikita Iltchenko, Nicholas Persiketti and Eva Guido used signals similar to QR codes to make robots fly.
In another corner, junior Sami Musumeci drew a crowd as she waxed poetic about the reproductive processes of pea aphids.
And, in yet another, junior Cory Wright quietly explained his research work using formulas for functional calculus.
Welcome to Rowan’s 15th annual STEM Symposium, a day in which Rowan students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics gathered to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the University’s student research.
The STEM symposium represented an overview of the research conducted in several colleges on campus and was the capstone for projects explored during the entire academic year. Rowan’s research expenditures in 2011 alone totaled more than $7 million.
Students involved in close to 100 research projects discussed their work in the ballroom of the Chamberlain Student Center, a setting that modeled professional academic conferences. In fact, said STEM coordinator Dr. Gregory Hecht, a biological sciences professor, STEM assists Rowan students in honing their presentation skills as they prepare to discuss their research at conferences nationally and internationally.
Presentations included such topics as robotics, Alzheimer’s detection, infection prevention, contamination of New Jersey watersheds, biomedical research and a casino-style blackjack game using Java, among many others.
“Except for Commencement, this is probably the most exciting day of the year at Rowan,” said Hecht amid a buzz of activity around the ballroom. “It’s a chance for the students to show off what they have been doing all year. A lot of people from a lot of different departments have a chance to come together and see what their students are doing. There’s a lot of networking that goes on at STEM. Faculty talk about what they are doing, and students explore what labs they want to join. You’ve got freshmen and sophomores looking around on the symposium floor just as much as you do upperclassmen.”
In the robotics presentation, students in Computer Science Professor Dr. Jennifer Kay’s Honors independent study course demonstrated how they programmed a “quadcopter” robot, which was originally made for a video game, to follow their commands using April Tags, which are similar to QR codes.
The students—Iltchenko, Persiketti and Guido—drew a crowd as they manipulated the tags. Making the robot fly involved hours upon hours of programming, the students explained.
Sex and the pea aphid
At a poster focusing on reproductive polyphenism in the pea aphid, Musumeci and her fellow undergraduate researchers, Michael Fackler, Ruthsabel Cortes, Ahmed Abdelhady and Hussain Haider, held court as they explained their work. A biological sciences major with an Honors concentration, Musumeci said that while aphids are tiny insects, they’re able to produce both sexually and asexually, making them “a huge agricultural pest.”
The team’s research, under the direction of Biological Sciences Professor Dr. Dayalan Srinivasan, could contribute to understanding the larger biological question of adaptation in organisms, Musumeci said. Additionally, it could assist scientists in developing pesticides to get rid of aphids.
“This research takes what I’ve learned in the classroom to a whole other level,” said Musumeci, whose project focuses on developing an in vitro culture system that will be used to study the effects of juvenile hormones on determining the reproductive mode in the aphids.
Wright, a mathematics and secondary education major who has presented his research at conferences throughout the region, enthusiastically explained his work using formulas in fractional calculus that are generalized versions of formulas used by famous mathematician Leonhard Euler.
“Usually when people look at the work, it looks scary. But in reality, if you know the basics of calculus and have about 15 minutes of time, my work becomes a lot more accessible,” Wright explained.
STEM was presented by colleges of Liberal Arts & Sciences and Engineering, as well as the Department of Biological Sciences, the Biology Club, the Pre-Health Society, and the Pre-SOMA (Students of Osteopathic Medicine) Club. It was sponsored in part by the Pre-Health Society; South Jersey Industries, Folsom; and the Rowan University Society of Women Engineers.