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 ’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
Hometown: West Des Moines, Iowa
Majors: Biology and Philosophy
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
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.