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From Space to Serotonin: Students Showcase Research at Annual Expo

Lauren Kearney has been part of the SpaceICE group in the lab of David Dunand, materials science and engineering. Photo by Avendah Watson

Lauren Kearney’s senior research project will follow her for some time — passing overhead about every 90 minutes or so.

Kearney was one of more than 40 students to discus their journey of discovery during a series of oral presentations at the 15th annual Undergraduate Research and Arts Exposition held May 31 on the Evanston campus.

Part of the SpaceICE group in the lab of David Dunand, materials science and engineering, Kearney worked on the science and engineering behind the team’s freeze-casting instrumentation, which is expected to launch into low-Earth orbit next year. SpaceICE will be contained inside a small satellite known as a CubeSat — built by student collaborators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — and enter orbit with help from NASA.

Freeze-casting involves suspending microscopic particles in fluid. The fluid is then frozen and converted to gas. The remaining materials are heated and bound together, forming a hardened porous structure. The project will benefit from orbit because gravity imparts forces on every Earthbound experiment.

“I worked on the initial stabilization and freeze-casting of suspensions that we were considering for use and I’ve helped out with the sample containers that will be on the CubeSat,” says Kearney, a member of Northwestern’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program who will serve aboard the USS John S. McCain upon graduation.

Hundreds of students, staff, faculty, and community members attended the daylong research event held at Norris University Center. Nearly 100 research projects were on display during a pair of poster sessions.

“Research opportunities can provide a first chance to really see one’s academic discipline as a field of active inquiry, with a lot of exciting unanswered questions and important problems left to solve,” says Yarrow Axford, Earth and planetary sciences and a faculty moderator at the expo. “It wasn’t until I got involved in research as an undergraduate myself that I understood how important creativity is in science, for example, and that’s when I started to see how fun it could be to pursue a career in research.”

Poster session winners included undergraduates Alya Goktan, Raymond Dai, Tuofei Chen, Bailey Sutton, Nicholas Griffiths, Basia Gawin, and Ashley Radee. Kelly Powderly, a senior majoring in chemistry, was awarded the top prize for her oral presentation of research conducted in the lab of Danna Freedman, chemistry.

“The Undergraduate Research and Arts Exposition is designed to give students the opportunity to share their independent work, get feedback from faculty, and get crucial presentation experience through pre-event workshops,” says Peter Civetta, Office of Undergraduate Research director. “The Expo has grown significantly, most notably by adding a Creative Arts Festival five years ago. The Festival provides our arts students the opportunity to showcase their original work with area professionals and the Northwestern community.”

Undergraduate Landon Hegedus took home the top prize at this year’s arts display for his “Composition for Jazz Sextet: excerpts from National Parks Suite.” Poppy Shen was awarded the People’s Choice Award for her documentary film, Aftermath of Rio2016 Olympics on Favela Vila Autodrómo.

By Roger Anderson