Students present research in state capitol

Twenty-two UW Colleges students connect research to real-life issues
4/13/17
By UW Colleges

Seven UW Colleges campuses sent 22 students to Madison this week for the UW System's annual Research in the Rotunda event. Students worked for months with faculty, local businesses and other groups to study topics like GPS accuracy, effects of cosmic radiation on DNA and accessibility to substance abuse centers in Wisconsin, to name a few.

These students and their research projects exemplify the opportunities available at UW Colleges campuses across the state. Freshmen and sophomores can find a topic that interests them, work closely with exceptional faculty, participate in research that has real-life consequences and present that work to lawmakers in our state capitol. Here are just a few of the stories from our students:

Studying how accurately GPS operates on corners

Two female students in front of research poster

It's hard to imagine life without an accurate GPS to give us directions where we're going. Alissa and Brielle Shortreed from UW-Baraboo/Sauk County set out to measure just how accurate our GPS is when cars are turning. By running a series of tests on normal roads, and even on a local racetrack, early results from their research found that on corners, our systems can be off by as much as one percent.

And while that may not seem like a huge margin, Brielle explained why that could be an issue.

"We use GPS systems for a lot of things like farming and military activities, so a one percent error in important situations can make a big difference."

Passion for coffee leads to a study of caffeine and industry

Student standing in front of research poster wearing plaid shirt

UW-Baraboo/Sauk County student Ryan Ramnarace based his research on a personal interest: coffee.

"I've been in the coffee business with a friend of mine before, and it's something I'm very interested in. This research was a great way to dig a little deeper into the makeup of coffee and the industry as a whole," said Ryan.

Ramnarace and fellow student Kody Friend studied the caffeine and acidity levels in different types of coffee with the help of Stephen Swallen, a chemistry professor on campus. In addition to the makeup of coffee, both were interested in coffee's place as an economic good, which accounts for a $225 billion yearly economic impact in the United States alone, and is the second-highest traded good in the world behind oil.

Treatment centers and distance barriers in Northeast Wisconsin

UW-Fox Valley student standing in front of research poster

Substance abuse treatment centers are a valuable resource in our state, and UW-Fox Valley student Lucas Lytie wanted look into how location of these treatment centers can affect those seeking help. Lytie created a map of Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago counties, and showed the majority of treatment centers are found largely in city areas. These urban locations can create "distance barriers" for rural residents that make it difficult to get treatment.

"It is my hope that with gaining recognition, the community can make advancements in reducing a distance barrier to treatment," said Lytie.

Studying hydrogen as a fuel source

Student and advisor standing in front of research poster

Second year UW-Marathon County student Riley Sterman has been working with the National Science Foundation to study the effectiveness of metal oxide catalysts and their ability to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas. This process has important implications, because hydrogen has the potential to be a renewable fuel source.

Through his work with professor Kaitlyn Mahoney, Riley has been able to optimize a catalyst made up of bismuth oxide and vanadium oxide. He plans to continue his studies by transferring to UW-Madison in fall 2017.

Digging into family heritage and studying a foreign language

UW-Rock County student standing in front of research poster

UW-Rock County student Peter Kelly wanted to do a research project with a personal aspect. His grandmother is originally from Cuba, but has lived in the United States for more than forty years. Peter wanted to see how that time has affected her use of Spanish.

Students team up with local partners, NASA to launch DNA into space

Group of students with state representative standing in front of research poster

A group of students from UW-Sheboygan will see their research go up in space later this year. Students interested in biology, engineering, astronomy and host of other disciplines came together to create an experiment on how cosmic radiation affects DNA. The group partnered with local schools and businesses to complete the project, and will see their work pay off in June, when NASA launches their experiment into space.

Examining mold spores in West Bend homes

Group of students, professor and lawmaker standing in front of research poster

UW-Washington County students Katelyn Marohl and Justin Nolan, with the help of biology professor Toye Ekunsanmi, presented research on the different types of mold spores they found in West Bend homes. The students collected local samples and grew spores in the campus lab. They then identified the types of mold spores they found, which gave them a chance to discuss health implications of having these organisms in area homes.

Environmental effects on fish development

UW-Waukesha students standing in front of research poster

UW-Waukeshastudents Robert Hall and Kesha Patel have spent months studying how an organism's environment can affect its development. With the help of their professor and the Milwaukee County Zoo, Hall and Patel gained real-life experience in setting up an experiment, collecting data and interpreting the results. Their experiment showed environmental factors (in this case, turbulent and calm water habitats) had an impact on how their group of fish physically developed.

An unexpected gift becomes a unique research project

UW-Waukesha student in front of research poster

A few months ago, UW-Waukeshareceived a cigar box full of ancient artifacts. Unfortunately, students and professors didn't know what the artifacts were, where they came from or how old they were. Students Jake Molkentin (pictured above), Jared Stoner and Lee Stedman began working with professor Gregg Jamison to classify and identify these items, and found some interesting results. One object came all the way from North Dakota, and the oldest piece was around 8,000 years old.

Jake has been working with his classmates on this project for the past few months, and he found the experience especially rewarding.

"This has been a fantastic experience for me as a freshman," said Molkentin. "I had been out of school for a few years, so to come back and get to do something like this has been really cool."