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H1N1, Biodegradable Plastics and Nuclear Physics Highlight Research Areas Undertaken During Houghton College's Summer Research Institute

Faculty members and students from the Division of Math and Natural Science will work side-by-side this summer on extensive and collaborative research projects as part of Houghton College’s Summer Research Institute (SRI).

Houghton, NY (Vocus) May 25, 2010 -- Faculty members and students from the Division of Math and Natural Science will work side-by-side this summer on extensive and collaborative research projects as part of Houghton College’s Summer Research Institute (SRI).

The goal of SRI is to provide a broad experience for Houghton students by encouraging them to become deeply involved in ‘real-world’ research problems that require them to use all of the skills, tools and knowledge they have accumulated throughout their educational career.

“Teaching is not just delivering content to our students, but a continuous intellectual exchange between the two parties. It is this bidirectional flow of ideas that provides an ideal environment for learning. It is through this process that professors learn how to teach and students learn how to learn,” stated Wei Hu, SRI program director. “In this institute, faculty and students will work together on research projects to provide our students with learning through research. Students must apply the knowledge learned from different courses to a single problem, thereby deepening their understanding of their academic disciplines. It is the collaborative nature of the research that provides mutual benefits to our faculty and students.”

2010 research projects include:

  • The genes of the novel 2009 H1N1 flu virus consist of those from avian, human, and swine viruses. Research to date has uncovered several key molecular differences between bird/swine flu and human flu, which could be used as markers to monitor changes in bird/swine flu that could threaten humans. Wei Hu, Professor of Math and Computer Science, and two computer science students, Keli Fancher and Zachary Miller, will investigate the correlation of the host-shift markers, because these individual markers tend to function in concert for their biological purposes.

  • Aaron Sullivan, Associate Professor of Biology, and two students, Amanda Hiers and Stewart LaPan will investigate chemically-mediated predator-prey interactions in larval black flies. Their research will utilize field techniques to evaluate prey responses to a variety of chemical cues related to predation at different field sites and will examine duall effects on behavior.

  • Brandon Hoffman, Assistant Professor of Physics, and two students, Joshua Mertzlufft and Tyler Reynolds, will design and construct a laser interferometer for measuring stresses in thin metal films. Their research group will develop an interferometer that illuminates an entire four inch substrate. Computer software will control the position of the reference mirror and generate a topographical image of the substrate. In this way, stresses can be calculated along any axis in the plane of the substrate.

  • Jamie Potter, Assistant Professor of Biology, and student Johanna Hummelman will investigate the microbial populations colonizing the feeding apparatus of the larval stage of the Simulium vittatum black fly. The research will combine field studies and basic microbiology laboratory techniques, offering a unique opportunity to study two diverse yet interconnected biological systems and fields.

  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry, John Rowley, and student, Alan Stier will explore how to synthesize new types of biodegradable plastic from renewable resources. Employing recently discovered catalyst technology, they will be designing and synthesizing new polymers that combine useful mechanical properties with the ability to degrade under the desired conditions.

  • Associate Professor of Chemistry, Karen Torraca, will work with two students this summer toward the development of a “green” synthetic method for the conversion of alcohols to ketones or aldehydes. Their ultimate goal will be to develop not only a “green” process, but also one that is amenable to large-scale use where it will have the greatest environmental impact. Their search will focus on the use of palladium catalysts to complete the oxidation of various alcohols to ketones or aldehydes under mild conditions.

  • Mark Yuly, professor of physics, and three students, Katrina Koehler, Adam Silvernail and Nick Fuller, will be collaborating with researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Kentucky on two nuclear physics experiments at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE). The first experiment is an active target measurement of n+p ’ d+³ neutron capture cross sections at low energies, which are important for Big Bang nucleosynthesis models. For the second experiment, a Time Projection Chamber is being constructed that will allow measurement of high precision fission cross sections needed for advanced nuclear reactor design codes.

Houghton established the undergraduate Summer Research Institute in 2007 to bring together physics, chemistry, biology, math and computer science faculty and students into a more intense research environment. For more information, visit

http://www.houghton.eduHoughton College, founded in 1883, provides an academically challenging, Christ-centered education in the liberal arts and sciences to students from diverse traditions and economic backgrounds and equips them to lead and labor as scholar-servants in a changing world.

The college of 1,200 students is located in western New York, just 65 miles from Rochester and Buffalo. For more information, please visit


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H1N1, Biodegradable Plastics and Nuclear Physics Highlight Research Areas Undertaken During Houghton College's Summer Research Institute
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