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Institute Report, April 2008

By Wendy Lovell

Depending on his location, a visitor to Post on April 3 could have mistaken the Virginia Military Institute for the Department of Homeland Security, a medical laboratory, an engineering firm, or the floor of Congress.

From national security issues to West Nile virus and HVAC systems to the war in Iraq, topics of discussion during the sixth annual VMI Undergraduate Research Symposium were both stimulating and reflective of top-of-mind issues faced by U.S. policy-makers, scientists, business leaders and philosophers today.

Funded by a grant from the Jackson-Hope Fund, URS is one of the primary programs developed by the Undergraduate Research Initiative to encourage cadets to learn by conducting scholarly inquiry under the guidance of a faculty mentor. The day-long event featured 120 presentations in the form of posters and papers.

“With record participation, such strong representation across the disciplines and the integration of exciting highlights from ongoing classroom research activities, this year’s URS is a sparkling testimony of the Institute’s full embrace of undergraduate research,” said Brig. Gen. Charles F. Brower IV, deputy superintendent for academics and dean of the faculty. “Cadets working with faculty in open-ended academic inquiry has indeed become a hallmark of a VMI education.”

Directed by Lt. Col. Jay Sullivan, associate professor of mechanical engineering, URS included a few additions to this year’s program. Seven members of the Lexington Sunrise Rotary Club with professional backgrounds served as URS judges, and presentations of mechanical engineering students’ senior design projects were added to the program.

“I received a lot of positive feedback from our external judges regarding the quality of our cadets’ research and their presentations,” said Sullivan. “They enjoyed being part of URS, as did some of the underclassmen who viewed some of the presentations as part of their regular classes. They likely would not have attended the presentations on their own but were excited by the possibilities of what they will do later in their cadetships.”

Cash prizes of $500 were awarded to first-place winners, $300 to second, and $100 to third. The following cadets were honored for their research at the culmination of URS:

In the liberal arts oral presentation category, cadets Amanda Moore, “The Relationship between Body Image and Physical Fitness,” and B.F. Kimsey, “Dangerous Driving Following War Zone Deployment,” tied for first place. Cadet Phillip Wilkerson for “The Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Threat” took second, and Cadet Phillip McCloskey with “Chemical Weapons Interdiction: Modern Challenges to American Foreign Policy,” third.

In the liberal arts poster category, Cadet S.J. Berkowitz placed first with “The Internet: The Changing Face of Terrorism”; Cadet N.G. Kozikowski, second for “Musicianship and Achievement”; and cadets C.W. Parsons, J.C. Ford, and D.B. Curry for “Discordance Among Self-Reported Observed and Cardiovascular Responses to Mental Arithmetic,” third.

In the science oral presentation category, Cadet Randall Life placed first with “The Bluing of Hydrangea: From Roots to Sepals”; Cadet J.C. Brown, second for “The Effects of Estrogen on the Regeneration of the Central Nervous System in Teleost Fish”; and Cadet Julian Sculley, third for “Metal-Flavonolate Complexes for Network Formation.”

In the science poster category, Cadet D.C. Trask, “The High Price of Feeling Low,” and Cadet H.A. Giaccolone, “Degradation of Francisella novicida After Paramecium Infection,” tied for first; Cadet A.M. Aloisio, “Ghrelin and Cardiovascular Fitness,” and Cadet M.J. Werle, “King of Battle: Geometric Overlap and Its Artillery Applications,” tied for second; and Cadet C.L. Zurcher, “The Role of Estrogen on Melanophore Formation in Zebrafish,” and Cadet B.M. Carpenter, “Assessing Trace Element Variation in Otolith Chemistry of the Smallmouth Bass for Determining Natal Origins,” tied for third.

In the engineering oral presentation category, cadets L.M. Larson and J.M. Sollock placed first with “Pod Analysis for Dynamic Aviation,” Cadet J.D. Moran placed second for “Engineering Evaluation of Using Biodiesel Glycerol Waste as an Alternate Carbon Source for Denitrification” and cadets J.H. Duke, T.M. Hichak, M.B. Mitchell, F.R. Muntean, W.M. Russo, Safy El-Din, Z.J. West and P.A. Childrey placed third for their mini Baja car.