BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Most college students spent the last few months
back home enjoying the warm weather and their mother's home-cooked
meals. However, Haley Arnold, a University at Buffalo sophomore
chemistry major, found herself on Sapelo Island, a small
unpopulated island off the coast of Georgia, researching algae
Arnold, who is also a UB Presidential Scholar, was one of
several UB Honors College Scholars who conducted summer research
through the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for
Undergraduates (REU). The NSF program funds students in engineering
and the sciences to study at a variety of universities that this
summer included the University of Alabama, Pennsylvania State
University and the University of Wisconsin.
Geoffrey Fatin, a sophomore physics major and Presidential
Scholar, was assigned to an REU site at Wayne State University to
study triple vector boson production at Fermi National Accelerator
Laboratory, home to the world's second-largest energy particle
UB's Honors College encourages its students to complete
undergraduate research to prepare them for graduate school.
Participants can use the opportunity to preview graduate programs
and build relationships with faculty, all while working on
interesting projects for the summer.
What drew Arnold to the University of Georgia Marine Institute
at Sapelo Island was her interest in the destructive nature of red
tide plankton, which reside in the Gulf of Mexico and within the
nightmares of fisherman, producing several toxins that can decimate
all wildlife in an area.
Arnold used a system of filters and polymer resins to identify
and characterize chemicals released by the plankton. Those
chemicals were then tested on other organisms, such as different
species of plankton, to understand their effects.
By studying the plankton, researchers can understand what causes
algae blooms to occur, and find ways to counteract the toxins it
But besides learning about algae, Arnold gained an interest in
marine biology. Despite the heavy involvement of chemicals, she was
surprised to find the research project was biology focused.
Prior to the summer, Arnold had no experience in the field of
biology. Coming from a chemistry background, she describes this
research as "jumping into the deep end of the pool." But now she is
glad she took the plunge. Arnold even decided to pick up biology as
"I knew I wanted to go into research but I had no idea what type
I wanted to focus on," said Arnold, who is a Clarence native. "The
program showed us how chemistry and biology played a role in marine
life and helped me narrow my choice down to marine studies."
Arnold wasn't the only UB Honors College Scholar who spent her
summer in a southern climate. Esther Buckwalter, a senior
environmental engineering major and Spanish minor, spent six weeks
studying water availability and cloud forests in Costa Rica.
Buckwalter, who is a Presidential Scholar as well, was one of 12
students from across the U.S. selected to participate in a summer
REU through Texas A&M University. The program takes them to the
university's Soltis Center for Research and Education near the
Monteverde Cloud Forest in central Costa Rica.
Along with other students, Buckwalter studied hydrologic and
biogeochemical changes in the watershed of a tropical forest. While
there, she built a weir -- a concrete structure designed to collect
data on flow rate -- in the study watershed's stream. This flow
data, combined with groundwater levels from wells, was analyzed to
understand the watershed's response to storm events.
The students' research also benefits local Costa Rican
communities. The watershed was hardly studied before the REU
started, but the newly collected data sheds light on water
availability for communities in the area.
Applying her coursework to community and climate issues helped
Buckwalter grasp the significance of her studies. Having an
understanding of a real watershed will help her visualize the
concepts in her courses this semester, and keep her more motivated,
In July, students wrapped up the program by returning to Texas
A&M to complete their analysis and present findings at a
research symposium. Their summer research concluded the second year
of the three-year program held at the Soltis Center in Costa Rica.
Many students from the REU, Buckwalter included, will present their
findings at the American Geophysical Union conference in San
Francisco this December.
Buckwalter will not return for the program's third year, but
will continue to analyze data collected in the forest. She said she
will carry on her work improving the environment right here at UB
as an active member of Engineers for a Sustainable World.