HOUR hosts third Student Seminar Series event

By JAEMIE BENNETT | October 11, 2018

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COURTESY OF JAEMIE BENNETT Four undergrads presented their research on the brain at the seminar.

The Hopkins Office for Undergraduate Research (HOUR) hosted the third lecture in the Student Seminar Series on Oct. 1.  The series provides a venue for undergraduates to present their research.

Four students presented: Erin Brush, a Molecular and Cellular Biology senior; Kevin Torgas, an Applied Math and Statistics and Neuroscience junior; Alanna Farrell, a Biomedical Engineering junior; and Julia See, a Behavioral Biology junior. 

The topic of this seminar was The Brain, and each student gave a presentation and then answered questions from the audience at the end of the session.

Brush’s research focused on analyzing the part of the brain used when blind individuals read braille versus sighted people reading written word. She found the brain processes to be similar.

Torgas is attempting to use the complexities of the brain to create better machine learning. He explained that there are some things the human brain is better at than machines. By mapping and understanding the human brain, the same principles that human brain’s use can be applied to machines to help them learn better.

Farrell, a Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award (PURA) recipient, created a more effective model of the blood-brain barrier. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy are related to dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier. 

Farrell’s model, which more accurately matches the blood-brain barrier than existing models, could aid in understanding and treating these diseases.

See, also a PURA recipient, studied the biological relationship of cancer, depression and anxiety. She is currently in the process of developing lab mice that have cancer and clearly show depression and anxiety. In an interview with The News-Letter, See said that she is grateful to the Kano lab and HOUR for providing her with mentorship and resources.

“Receiving the summer PURA award and being able to solely concentrate on an interesting topic, and then presenting that research at a poster session and the HOUR Student Seminar was a great learning experience. I now definitely appreciate all the work that happens in basic science and how crucial it is to bettering lives,” she said.

Prior to this past summer, See said that she did not understand how important it is to be able to communicate her research and to get others interested in it. 

“If researchers aren’t able to share their results, then the lack of communication and awareness will hinder progress. Sharing my research allows more brains to work together and ask questions I never thought about before,” See said.

HOUR was created in March 2017 largely by Tracy Smith, the current manager of HOUR. Smith, originally at the Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, said that she felt there was work to be done when she moved to the Office of the Provost. 

“I missed the contact with students,” Smith said. “You get into that hallway, and it’s a lot of meetings and a lot of suits and not as much interaction with, what I felt, was the meat of the University,” Smith said.

Along with the help of Vice Provost Denis Wirtz, Smith was able to get HOUR approved.

Smith explained that HOUR has two main missions. One is to help faculty find undergraduates to fill spaces in their labs, and the other is to help undergraduates find research and to graduate with a good foundation for their career.

HOUR provides resources for undergraduates at every step of their undergraduate research career, from the first email sent to potential mentors to having a space to share completed research.

When asked what HOUR’s greatest accomplishment has been so far, Smith said DREAMS, the symposium formally known as Undergraduate Research Day. Handed off to HOUR by the Neuroscience department, DREAMS grew from 100 presentations to 300 presentations in HOUR’s first year.

“We don’t celebrate what people are doing enough, so this is a great opportunity to show off all these amazing things,” Smith said about DREAMS. 

She emphasized that DREAMS and HOUR strive to include all forms of research like the social sciences and humanities, not just STEM areas.

Opportunities like the Student Seminar Series help undergraduates with professional skills, Smith said. Any job an undergraduate goes in to will consist of some form of public speaking, and presenting at the Series develops presentation and speaking skills. As See said, it also challenges students to translate their research into something easily understood by the general public.

Since it is only the second semester that the Student Seminar Series is running, Smith hopes that it will gain student interest and that more topics and seminars can be added. Currently, seminars on “The World — Your Community,” “The Heart” and “Disease” are planned for this academic year.

Smith continued to explain why HOUR is so important at Hopkins.

“It’s really about helping students find their passion,” Smith said. “Not a job, but finding what’s really going to make you want to go to work, make the difference, make the change and make you satisfied.”

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