FIReS lets undergraduates share their passions

Beginning in the fall of 2013 and hosted in the Center for the Sciences atrium, the Fall Interdisciplinary Research Symposium or FIReS, gives undergraduate students of all disciplines a chance to share their research with the greater Valpo community. FIReS hosted their seventh annual event on Oct. 25. 

Although FIReS currently represents mostly students from STEM fields, history, and geography, there’s hope that in the future, it will showcase research from a greater range of disciplines.

“One of the important reasons the FIReS symposium was established is to highlight ongoing student research at Valpo for the benefit of new Valpo students,” said Dr. Stan Zygmunt, a professor of physics and astronomy who took charge of running FIReS this year. “We hope that many first-year students will see the enthusiasm of the student presenters and be motivated to seek out opportunities to do their own research in the future.”

Professors often encourage their students to participate in FIReS, either by entering research or by viewing others’ submissions to the event. These interactions are highly valuable.

“Peer review is the defining feature of good science,” said Dr. Paul Smith, an assistant professor of chemistry. “FIReS will be a valuable attempt to disseminate research activities and progress to the university community.”

Dr. Thomas Goyne, another associate professor of chemistry, also spoke to the value of the event.

“First, it forces them to communicate their research to people who are not experts in the field...Second, by sharing their research difficulties, students and faculty can get some good ideas for new strategies to try. Third, research tends to be a bit discouraging because more often than not, things are not working,” Goyne said. “It is very therapeutic to have some time to talk with fellow researchers to be reminded that others are also struggling.”

Students from across all disciplines come to present their research in poster form. One such student is Grace Burkhart, a senior biochemistry major who spent the summer researching cardiovascular stents at Case Western Reserve University.

“My favorite part about this research is its applications. While this research is in its very beginning stages and will be years before it is (hopefully) used in medicine, the idea that some of the work I helped with could be used to heal people is very exciting! It was also just a really fun project to work on,” Burkhart said. 

Given the fact that her research wasn’t completed at Valpo, Burkhart took advantage of FIReS to share the information with the community.

“This will be my second year participating in FIReS. It's always great getting to talk with all the students and faculty, to both share and hear what research everyone has been doing! I also really like being able to share the research with students new to the department, to get them interested in research as well.

Brendan Godsel, a senior chemistry major, presented a poster of research over the summer with his research group and was eager to share it with an even wider audience at his first FIReS.

“In a nutshell, we are building batteries with compounds that have not been thoroughly investigated, and we are studying how effective they are relative to current battery structures and research,” Godsel said. “The research is fun, new, and exciting. It's great to be a part of a project that gives results and has so much real-world application...the research has been a huge part of helping me decide what I want to do after college, and it has helped me form great friendships with my lab mates and professors.”

Any students who are interested should look for ways to do research through their academic departments.

“I would encourage all Valpo students to seek out research opportunities,” Goyne said. “Although I'll be the first to admit that research can be incredibly challenging and discouraging, on balance, research enriches one's life in a uniquely wonderful way.  Although my own research skills are modest, my experience doing research has been a real blessing.”

 

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