More than 90 undergraduate and graduate students showcased their academic work at the Student Research and Creative Works Expo held April 8 at UA Little Rock. This year’s event took place outside beneath tents between the Ottenheimer Library and the Physics building. It was the first in-person expo in three years.
The projects, some of which were inside the library, covered such major areas as applied bioscience, art history, biology, business information systems, chemistry, computer science, criminal justice, engineering, fine arts, history, mechanical engineering, mechanical engineering technology, philosophy, physics, political science, public administration, and theatre.
The gathering also featured research projects by winners of the Signature Experience Awards. The grants fund a signature experience, such as a research project, creative activity, or community project. The goal is to enrich the students’ academic experience at UA Little Rock.
Among those who completed creative work was Meaghan Herbold, a senior physics major. She presented her project “Applied Physics for the Design and Construction of Articulated, Electronic Wings.” Massive 14-foot-long red wings made of poplar wood, bamboo, faux fur, and goose feathers dominated a spot in the library.
Herbold builds and designs costumes based on pop culture. She applied physics to construct the wings to be worn by a human.
“I studied ornithology papers and I studied the anatomy of birds,” she said. What she learned was “impractical for human application and this design is more efficient.”
Nearby, senior Emma Chambers, who is completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting, presented her creative work project, “Sourcing from Nature: Making and Using Paint from Locally Sources Pigments.”
“This is Arkansas-based paint,” she explained, pointing to sample colors that ranged from dark brown to pale yellow. Chambers collected soil and rock from Bauxite to make the paint which she used in three paintings. Chambers’ mentor is Krista Schoenin.
Cool, windy conditions outside challenged a few students to keep their research posters upright. But for Michael Flowers, a senior mechanical engineering technology major, it was near perfect weather for his research project “Cost Benefits of Adding Wind-turbine Generator.”
“This is a feasibility study to see how adding a vertical axis wind turbine can add efficiency to a solar panel array to reduce lithium battery storage,” Flowers said. By using a wind-powered generator, he predicted that about 6.4 solar panels would not be needed, and that battery storage requirements would be reduced by half thus creating “a more effective renewable energy.” Flowers worked on the research with fellow students Stephen David and Garrett Phelps. Dr. Mamdouh Bakr is their mentor.
Ruby Trottor’s research focused on “Nanomaterial Effects on Degradation of Polymer Biomaterials.” The senior chemistry and Spanish major said biomaterials degradation is a very important aspect to consider when they are used for medical purposes – depending on how long the materials need to remain in the body.
“At the intersection of materials chemistry and biomedical research, our polymer and graphene nanomaterials have shown remarkable promise in bone tissue regeneration technologies,” Trotter said. “Through an investigation of the degradation profiles of the polymer along and with graphene, we have determined that graphene materials may slow the degradation of the polymeric biomaterial.”
The expo is a place where “students see themselves as researchers,” said Dr. Jeremy Ecke, director of undergraduate research at UA Little Rock. “We get students in contact with a faculty mentor as early as we can so it’s about building a community of research.”
Ecke said the event also highlights “the diversity of our student population, various cultures, and ethnic populations. To be able to see yourself in this space and see people thriving is encouraging to our future students.”
For Robert Elliott Hagberg, a business major contemplating switching to engineering, it was a chance to explore new areas.
“I was hoping to strike up some good conversations with people on topics that I’m interested in,” he said. “I had a great time, and I got to talk to people and learn a lot of new stuff. I like art, construction, and design.”Several students and faculty members said they were glad that the research expo was in-person versus virtual (recorded videos) as it had been in recent years due to COVID-19.
“It’s a great opportunity to practice my presentation skills,” said Tayler Gamble, a senior majoring in biology and chemistry. Her research focused on “Studies in the hydridic reduction reactions of alkynyl hydrazones via sigmatropic rearrangement to form allenes.”
“So, in our lab we use the methods of synthetic chemistry to produce allenes,” Gamble said, explaining that allenes are an integral part of the synthesis of many pharmaceuticals and numerous natural products. “In order for us to produce these allenes, we first have to create alkynyl hydrazones which are molecules that will act as precursors to the final rearrangement step that will allow us to produce allenes.“ Gamble’s mentor is Dr. Brian Walker.
Some faculty members said the event gives them the opportunity to support students.
“I love having it in person because I can go up, we can talk to each other, and I can see and sometimes touch the work,” said Johanna Lewis, an associate dean in the College of Humanities, Arts, Social Science, and Education. “The enthusiasm is much better in real life. I am constantly amazed and delighted by our students.”
For music professor Rolf Groesbeck, it was a chance to support those who are taking or have taken his classes and learn about the work that‘s happening on campus.
“About three-fourths of the students exhibiting here are my students or my former students,” he said. “Plus, I appreciate the opportunity to see what other departments are doing.”