Students Showcase Creativity and Curiosity at Research Slam

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hannah Maerowitz
Staff Writer

Microbes, stem cells, fish dissections, and Kanizsa objects — all presented on in two hours. These were just some of the research foci that UCSB undergraduates presented at the annual undergraduate research slam.

The slam took place in the library on May 15, featuring presentations from just over a dozen finalists.

In oral presentations of three minutes or less, finalists were challenged to convey their research focus, progress, and goals.

At stake were three cash awards, ranging from $1,500 to $2,500, issued to undergraduates illustrating both passion and vision in their research pursuits.

Although there were many finalists from science disciplines such as biopsychology, biology, and biochemistry, there was also a range of disciplines represented at the slam — including dance and sociology.

The research slam provided a creative and energetic outlet that forced young presenters to think deeply about their subjects, distilling them down to their most basic and important aspects. After all, with such specific research foci as hermaphroditic fish, diabetic retinopathy, and diseases carried by mosquitoes, the finalists had to be the perfect balance of expository and entertaining.

The presentation styles were as diverse as their topics, many combining rapid fire delivery with striking visual design representative of their research, such as splotches to represent diabetic retinopathy.

Other presenters, such as Matthew Daly, used shock value to underscore the importance of their research. Daly introduced his research into the effects of negative social experiences on human physiology against a backdrop that simply bore the word “FAT,” monolithic in its monosyllabic presentation.

The problems and peculiarities that finalists investigated in their research were far from entry-level. Many of the topics that these students focused on were at the forefront of their respective fields and were approached in intriguing new ways.

For instance, Sydney Hunt, a biology student in the College of Creative Studies, proposed extrapolating data on fruit flies to understand the comparatively enigmatic mosquito. The mosquito happens to be the deadliest animal in the world due to its disease-carrying capacities. Fruit flies are physiologically similar to mosquitos but much less likely to carry disease, allowing for data comparison.

Once her research gives her the information needed to understand the mechanisms behind mosquito disease transmission, Hunt believes that she will equipped to begin forming solutions to mosquito-borne disease.

The awards ceremony for undergraduate finalists occurred on May 17, awarding first prize to Matthew Hee, a biology student in the College of Creative Studies who presented a unique solution to treating blindness.

Hee took a targeted approach to his research, seeking to mitigate issues surrounding an existing solution rather than forming a new solution himself. This strategy contrasted with many of the other finalists, who pioneered approaches that were new and therefore in need of more development.

“Stem cells are like an undergraduate with an undeclared major — they can become anything. But one of the issues with using stem cell-derived therapy to treat blindness is that production takes a while, often around six months. My research centers around speeding up that process by using small molecules to replace animal products that are currently used in the process,” said Hee in his presentation at the research slam.

Creativity, curiosity, and a desire to investigate are necessary ingredients in the formula of good research. All of the undergraduates that presented on Tuesday illustrated their ability to traverse problems encountered during the research process (as well as six rounds of competition in the slam) due to these qualities.