Rowan hosts 21st annual student STEM symposium

Rowan hosts 21st annual student STEM symposium

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It’s all about the science.

Almost all, anyhow.

Rowan University celebrated its 21st annual STEM Symposium April 20, a daylong event detailing hands-on, student research, virtually all of it in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Symposium coordinator Dr. Gregory Hecht, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences within the College of Science & Mathematics, said the event, which is expected in 2019 to outgrow the cavernous Eynon Ballroom in which it was held, was built around the real-world research of more than 500 Rowan students and more than 100 faculty.

“It’s really gotten big,” Hecht said. “When we started in 1998 there were 40 posters. Today there are 216.”

Indeed, the breadth of posters presented spanned the University, detailing the work of students from such disparate subject fields as American Studies, Astronomy, Biochemistry and Civil Engineering.

“This is not library research,” Hecht said. “Every poster presented today represents actual research in the field or at the bench.”

He said the symposium, which has expanded with the University’s growth, included some work from Rowan’s two medical schools but still remains largely an undergraduate forum.

“It’s exciting because freshmen and sophomores come by and see what’s going on here, the work that’s being presented, and they want to be a part of it,” he said.

Mounted on wallboards and spread throughout the Ballroom, the posters portrayed a dizzying array of research including engineering studies that, once perfected, could improve the strength and function of building materials; biological research into the nervous systems of area fish; and “Mistakes on a Plane,” named with a clear and clever play on the film title “Snakes on a Plane,” which examined information and abnormalities in flight data.

Presenting a poster exploring the “Lateral Line System in Local Populations of Mummichog,” a small, hardy saltwater fish, senior biological sciences major Caliope Janulis said she and her co-researchers focused their work on neuromasts, small cuplike structures within mummichogs’ nervous systems that help the fish with navigation, predator and prey detection, even in “schooling,” the synchronous movement that typifies travel by some species of fish.

“This type of research could lead to other areas of study but for our purposes it was mostly for discovery and knowledge,” Janulis said.

Across the ballroom, civil & environmental engineering students from the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering Ian McKane, Marissa Ciocco and Sean Plunkett presented a poster detailing research into the “Effect on Water Quality on Masonry Mortar Strength,” a study that could ultimately be life-saving.

“It’s important because there have been building failures – cracking in mortar, even building collapses,” McKane said. “We’re trying to determine if salt in water (used to make masonry) is what can weaken a building and cause failure.”

Among the event’s non-science-based poster presenters was Celeste Del Russo, director of the Rowan Writing Center, which supports student research of all stripes.

“Working with students from across all disciplines, we help them develop ideas, organize and submit papers,” said Del Russo, an associate professor in the Department of Writing Arts within the College of Communication & Creative Arts. “So, while the Writing Center does not technically fit within a STEM field, we certainly support students in those fields.”

Hecht said the program, which next year will be expanded to include all of Rowan’s colleges and schools, was funded in part through a grant from South Jersey Gas.