Student Research Blog

At Simpson, we fully embrace a “learn by doing” philosophy. Students have many opportunities to engage in research projects from all disciplines either here on campus, at REUs across the country, or internationally. Here are stories from students themselves about their experiences.


Generating Functional Brain Networks

Erin Boggess (left) presents at the Joint Mathematics Meetingss 2015 in Seattle, WA.

Erin Boggess (left) presents at the Joint Mathematics Meetings 2015 in Seattle, WA.

Erin Boggess ’17
Hometown: Urbandale, IA
Majors/Minors: Math and Biochemistry

When I began college at Simpson, I had never considered a career in research. I was not even planning on taking a math class past Calc I. However, I was encouraged to apply for the Bryan Summer Research Program the summer after my freshman year, and I am very grateful I did. The opportunity showed me what a life in research might look like and opened my eyes to the field of computational biology. This research experience at Simpson College helped me to get two more summer research experiences for undergraduates (REUs), one after both sophomore and junior year. At Valparaiso University, I researched ecological modeling and studied the population dynamics of reintroduced species . At the University of Connecticut, I researched computational neuroscience and studied brain networks.

I’m spending my summer in Farmington, CT at the University of Connecticut’s Center for Quantitavive Health. My work is on generating functional brain networks from fMRI data. Basically, we take data from an MRI machine and reverse engineer a network that shows us the connections made between different regions of the brain during that scan. This shows us how regions of the brain interact and how activation in some regions cause other regions to activate/deactivate. It is suggested that neurodegenerative diseases change the way a brain network is wired, so this would give us a way to compare the brain network of patients with a disease to people who do not have a disease. This could help with the diagnosis of many different brain disorders. This campus is attached to UConn’s medical school, and I collaborate with biologists obtaining experimental data.

I will be a senior in the fall and am planning to apply to computational biology PhD programs. I specifically hope to work on ecological modeling or something in the field of environmental science. Using math to increase understanding of experimental biology (whether it be medical or environmental) is very exciting, and I am grateful to Simpson College for allowing me to get involved with interdisciplinary research early on in my career. I am very excited for the future!

Erin Boggess has been heavily involved in undergraduate research during her time at Simpson College. Here are some of the conferences where she’s presented her research.

Joint Math Meetings 2014 (San Antonio, TX)
Joint Math Meetings 2015 (Seattle, WA)
Council for Undergraduate Research Summer REU Symposium (Washington D.C.)
Midwest Undergraduate Mathematics Symposium 2015 (Simpson College)
Undergraduate Research Symposium 2014, 2015, 2016 (Simpson College)
Indiana University REU Symposium 2015 (Indiana University)


An Active Role in Research at all Stages of the Project

Trey Scott '16

Trey Scott ’16

Trey Scott ’16
Hometown: West Des Moines, Iowa
Majors: Biology and Philosophy

I recently graduated from Simpson, and now I’m pursuing a doctorate degree in the department of Evolution, Ecology, and Population Biology at Washington University in St. Louis. I’m currently investigating how bacterial symbionts are distributed phylogenetically in Dictyostelids for my first rotation as a grad student. I’ve presented at the University of Georgia Summer REU Symposium, the Simpson Summer Research Symposium, and Simpson’s Undergraduate Research Symposium.

As an undergraduate I was able to investigate peptidoglycan synthesis during a summer at the University of Georgia and modify a nylon metabolizing enzyme at Simpson. Outside of science, I was able to work with a philosophy professor at Simpson to write a paper about the relationship between language and ethics. My independent research at Simpson allowed me to take an active role in the construction and execution of a research project. I was involved with the genesis of the project, wrote a grant, and worked mostly independently in the lab. Having the opportunity to take such an active role in all aspects of a research project is rare for undergraduates at most institutions. However, Simpson College gave me the opportunity to acquire the skills that allowed me to transition seamlessly to graduate school.


Getting Involved in Research as a First Year

Kristina Smith '19

Kristina Smith ’19

Kristina Smith ’19
Hometown: Pleasant Hill, IA
Majors/Minors: Actuarial Science and Computer Science
Research opportunities were one of the reasons why I came to Simpson. Dr. Aaron Santos, a professor of physics, had a project with Chris Draper, the director of EMERGE@Simpson. I have been working on population density modeling with both of them since July before coming to Simpson. In October of my freshman year, I gained two partners on my project, so I learned how to work with a group and independently pretty quickly. These two things along with the fact that I had a research experience and participation in two modeling competitions (one for physics and another for math) when applying for REUs, were what got me into the program I’m in this summer. Well, that and letters of recommendation from my professors. Those were probably the biggest factor.

I’m spending my summer at Cornell University working on a project about experimental studies and modeling of ion phenomena in the high intensity frontier. My project involves a lot of knowledge about gas particles. For some background, gas particles that are not removed from the beam pipe by vacuum pumps are ionized by an electron bunch hitting the gas particles. These ions are positively charged and will attract the negatively charged electrons when the electron bunch passes an ion. This can move the position of the electron beam in the pipe. I am modeling this effect this summer as well as comparing my model to experimental data.

Kristina Smith's potential electric field map for a box-like object.

Kristina Smith’s potential electric field map for a box-like object.

A typical day for me is creating, running, and debugging the code needed for my computer simulations. I am learning new ways to program and new mathematical methods, as well as physics specific to accelerators. Simpson has been helpful in giving me a basis on which to build from when learning these new things. My first “mini project” this summer was writing a computer method that can create a potential and electric field map for a box-like object. This picture is a cross-section of that box for a specific voltage.
The biggest reason why I’m doing research is because I wanted to do research. I found opportunities by either asking, or just getting to know my professors. There are always opportunities out there if you look for them!