While most students are settling into the new semester, Alanna
Olear, a University at Buffalo environmental engineering major,
will be in campus bathrooms measuring the amount of paper towels
that were used that day.
The Amherst native is attempting to answer an age-old question
that has frustrated most who have ventured into a loo: is it better
to use a hand-dryer or paper towels?
But Olear is not concerned with which option dries one’s
Olear, one of many students taking advantage of UB’s
undergraduate research opportunities, is studying which alternative
leaves a smaller environmental footprint throughout the life of the
product. To accomplish this, she will measure the amount of money
and energy used through manufacturing, production and regular use
to determine which is more wasteful.
“People ask me what my research is about, and I say paper
towels because I like to see their reactions. They just laugh and
think it’s funny,” says Olear.
“But it has a good purpose. The research is my way of
using my education to give back to UB and the environment.
Improving the hand drying systems at UB is a small piece in solving
a large problem. A lot of small pieces can add up."
The study she is leading was accepted into the 2013 New York
State Pollution Prevention Institute Student Competition, a
state-wide contest that enables students to design solutions to
real world environmental challenges.
Under the supervision of James N. Jensen, UB civil, structural
and environmental engineering professor and faculty director of the
Research Exploration Undergraduate Academy, Olear orchestrated this
experiment all before the end of her junior year.
Traditionally, research at universities is carried out by
graduate students, however, Timothy Tryjankowski, director of
UB’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative
Activities, believes the norm is changing.
“The students entering UB as freshmen are asking from day
one, really from open house and orientation, ‘Okay, I made it
to UB. Now how do I get to medical school, law school or graduate
school,’” says Tryjankowski.
Banuna Barinaepkee, biological sciences and psychology major,
started even sooner, as she began studying Human Immunodeficiency
Virus in high school. Now a college sophomore, Barinaepkee
continues her research under Gene Morse, PharmD, UB pharmacy
practice professor and associate director of UB’s New York
State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.
After collecting data on HIV trends in the U.S., Barinaepkee
presented her work at a Collegiate Science and Technology Entry
Program Conference over the past summer. Her presentation titled,
“An Update on HIV,” highlighted that African-American
males who were homosexuals were the only group with an increase in
the rate of new infections. It also identified two new
antiretroviral therapy treatments called Treatment as Prevention,
or TasP, and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, which she plans to
further investigate this upcoming summer.
Although Barinaepkee did not conduct hands-on research, she
still found the experience rewarding.
“Even though it wasn’t me doing the research in a
laboratory, people were interested in the knowledge,” says
Barinaepkee. “Sometimes research is not just in the lab.
It’s also sharing information with other people.”
Helping people share information is the center of Xiang
Lin’s research. Lin, a senior computer science major, merged
Google’s Cloud Platform with their Android operating system
to create a data storage application called Contacts Cloud
The app will allow users to store their contact information
inside Google’s servers to avoid losing the data in the event
their cell phone is lost or damaged.
Constructing a virtual phonebook is only the beginning for Lin,
who with the help of Bina Ramamurthy, UB teaching associate
professor in computer science and engineering, plans to utilize big
data computing methods to develop the app to handle large financial
and medical data.
Whether studying the latest medical treatments or creating the
newest cell phone app, undergraduates at UB are making an impact on
the world through their research while discovering what their
“By doing what we do best, imagining, creating and
educating, we are raising the bar higher every day in every field
of study at UB,” says Tryjankowski.