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04-19-2006

Clarkson's Research Program Lets Undergrads Put Theory Into Action in the Lab and the Field

[A photograph for newspaper use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/sure2006.jpg]

From investigating affordable methods for replacing petroleum diesel fuel with biodiesel in school buses and the role of protein receptors in the development of cervical cancer to devising experiments to determine which sex is more altruistic, undergraduates at Clarkson University are gaining valuable, hands-on experience in cutting-edge research. SURE Conference

They are also gaining insights into possible career opportunities and significantly enhancing their professional credentials for future employment or advanced degree programs.

Senior Erica Gonyo, an industrial hygiene and biomolecular science double major, displayed a poster with the results of an Environmental Protection Agency-funded research project �Biodiesel as a Sustainable Alternative to Petroleum Diesel in School Buses.� Gonyo has worked on the project over the past year with a team of faculty and fellow student researchers.

�Diesel exhaust is potentially harmful to human health and is a significant pollutant, yet few people have studied children�s exposure to these fumes,� says Gonyo. �As part of our project to examine the use of biodiesel as an alternative replacement fuel for school buses operating in the rural, cold climate of northern New York, we monitored biodiesel and diesel emission concentrations onboard and near school buses at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School in Potsdam.�

�We measured particulate matter � ultrafine particles, carbon and PAHs, which are human carcinogens,� Gonyo explained. �From the data collected during drop off and pick up when buses are lined up, we did find major increases in these agents, but we also found the spike was very short-lived. The particulate matter simply did not stay airborne for very long so exposure is extremely short-term.�

Gonyo, who begins a master�s program in industrial hygiene at Harvard University in the fall, will travel with her fellow researchers to Washington, D.C., next month to present their results to the EPA. �I loved the hands-on part of the research and I learned to use some fairly sophisticated equipment. I am very interested in exposure assessment so it really appealed to me. It was a great experience.�

As part of an experimental psychology course, junior psychology majors Sarah Gregoire, Renee Lajoie, Stephen Tucker and Don Ingrim developed an experiment to investigate whether there exists any gender differences in altruistic behavior. The students worked with faculty advisor Professor of Psychology Robert Dowman. Forty participants, 20 males and 20 females, were involved in the study. Each participant was told he/she would be participating in an unrelated study. The experimenter then excused himself from the room, informing the participant that another participant would be arriving shortly. When the second person, the confederate posing as another participant, entered the room he/she dropped 10 books.

�Altruism was measured as the number of books the participant helped the confederate pick up,� explained Tucker. �We found that women participants were more altruistic then men towards the male confederate, whereas both women and men participants were altruistic towards the female confederate.�

�Designing a workable experiment that did not have too many variables we couldn�t control was difficult,� said Gregoire. �Also we had to get approval from the University�s Institutional Review Board and that was a very tough process.�

The four student researchers are currently working on an article about their results for publication in the national psychology honors society�s Psi Chi Journal.

"Creating opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in state-of-the-art research projects with faculty mentors is part of Clarkson's commitment to providing real-world learning experiences," said Gregory Slack, director of Research & Technology Transfer at Clarkson. "The students develop important skills in technical problem-solving and critical thinking as well as familiarity with scientific instrumentation and laboratory procedures. They learn how to take an open-ended problem and find a solution. And they get an idea of what opportunities are out there.�

PHOTO CAPTION: Clarkson University senior Erica Gonyo discusses her poster presentation on research related to children�s exposure to diesel exhaust from school buses in a rural environment. Gonyo was one of more than 40 Clarkson student researchers on hand to display and explain results of research projects to fellow students, faculty and members of the general public at the seventh annual Symposium of Undergraduate Research Experiences held earlier this month on the Clarkson campus.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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