Research and Creativity Symposium: ‘The True Heart of Simpson’

Why was Derek Lyons so happy?

“This is my favorite day,” he explained.

Lyons, an assistant professor of chemistry, was co-chair of Simpson’s Research and Creativity Symposium, which was held April 20.

A 2007 Simpson graduate, Lyons has seen the Symposium blossom from a two-hour event at night to a full-day celebration of student research and creative projects.

“To me, this is not a showcase of Simpson research,” he said. “This is a showcase of the Simpson community. The true heart of Simpson.”

The 2017 version included dozens of students displaying their research through posters, oral presentations, performances and art.

The range of subjects was impressive, from the past (Chaucer’s Rebellious Stance on ‘Good’ Literature) to the present (Why 52 Percent of White Women Voted for Donald Trump.)

From the mind (Plato, Moral Ambiguity and the Strict Limitations of Practical Reason) to the body (Identifying Exercises that Improve Glucose Metabolism.)

From the practical (Predicting Stock Prices via Twitter) to the intriguing (A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words; How Many Does a Kiss Speak?). 

In fact, the only topic that seemed missing was the one that Tyler Godfrey, a junior from St. Charles, might have found very beneficial: How To Survive Standing In Front of People and Presenting Your Research Paper for the First Time.

“I typically don’t do too well with public speaking, but hopefully this will be different,” he said.

Godfrey might have benefitted by talking to Sydney Baty, a junior from Moravia who is majoring in English. This year marked the third year she has presented a paper, and she has a keen memory of the first time.

“I was absolutely terrified,” she said. “It was painful almost. Now I’m pretty calm, at least on the outside.”

So calm, in fact, that she was scheduled for two presentations – one with a group of students and one by her alone.

“It’s really cool that you can actually do research in English,” she said. “When you think of research, it’s all science and biology and physics and stuff, but it’s actually kind of a liberal arts thing, too.”

Lyons said he is pleased by how many projects involve students in other academic disciplines working together.

“That can only happen at a place with a community like Simpson,” he said.

JJ Butts, associate professor of English and the other Symposium co-chair, said the focus of the event is learning.

“The American Association of Colleges and Universities has highlighted the importance of undergraduate research and creative activity to student learning,” he said. “It’s a deep-learning experience, a high-impact practice. To have an event where we can come together and highlight the great work that students have been doing throughout the year, I think that’s a great opportunity for us.”

How much is hands-on learning and research stressed at Simpson?

“In your classes, if you’re not doing hands-on research, you’re probably not doing your assignments properly,’ said Nick Laning, a junior from Byron, Minn., who will be graduating in May with a double major in Political Science and International Relations and a minor in Religion.

Laning’s presentation: How did Donald Trump Nearly Flip Deep Blue Minnesota? 

He was surprised to learn that one county had recorded a 26-point swing between those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump voters in 2016. It was the first time that county had voted Republican since Herbert Hoover in 1928.

Laning’s research included talking to Minnesota state senators and poring over demographic data and voting patterns.

The research conducted by Tom Miller, Cassie Nemmers, Colin Robinson and Professor of Biology Jackie Brittingham took them to a shooting range.

There, they sought to track saccadic and smooth eye movements in trap shooters. Without getting too technical, you’d rather have a smooth eye movement if you compete in trap shooting competitions.

The project compared an inexperienced shooter, Nemmers, who had never fired a gun before, with an experienced shooter, Miller, who recently captured a national championship for Team Simpson in trap shooting. Both are senior biology majors.

Six electrodes monitored their eye movements. They didn’t even have to fire a shot, just track the clay target.

“Our hypothesis was that I would have smoother eye motion because my eyes are more familiar with the motion, and that proved to be the case,” Miller said.

Nemmers said they took a common experiment – monitoring eye movements – and added a twist that had never been done before. And there was this benefit:

“It’s really cool to say that I worked on a trap shooting project with a super-awesome trap shooter.”

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We asked other students for their thoughts about the Symposium:

Walker Mask

Senior from Rockwall, TX, double major in chemistry and math. He researched the intersections between mathematics and chemistry, applying solutions to problems found in math to problems in chemistry; and how physical attributes of molecules can predict their success as drugs for processes in the body.”

His research interest began in a freshman organic chemistry class.

“After finding out what I could do in research, I decided that was what I wanted to do.”

“Starting at the end of my sophomore year, I was able to propose my own research project from scratch and I pitched it to Dr. Lyons and he said, ‘Let’s do it.'”

“It’s a small enough school that you can get individualized resources so you can do research. I don’t think you can get that at a lot of other places. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I’d be going to grad school.”

“There’s lots of great research that isn’t just science.”

Kelly Brass

Senior from Maplewood, MN, double major in biochemistry and math. She conducted research on dual therapy treatment for cancer. She found an inhibitor to keep cancer cells from fixing themselves after chemotherapy damages the DNA in the cells.

“Doing research my sophomore year totally changed my whole career plan. I was going for forensic science and I realized I actually liked research so I changed to biochemistry. Now I’m going into more of the research field and working with cells, which I never thought I actually was going to do.”

Olivia Anderson

Junior from Greensboro, NC, double major in political science and applied philosophy.

She researched why 52% of white women voted for Donald Trump in the last election. She discovered that white women prioritized their needs as a white person over their needs as a woman in the election.

Her interest in the subject dates back to her work on the Hillary Clinton campaign. Clinton’s Electoral College loss made her wonder why it happened.

“I think Simpson provides good opportunities for students to explore what they’re passionate about.”

“It’s a good environment to explore what it is you as a student find most interesting.”

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