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Science Students take top prizes at ICFNJ Undergrad Research Symposium

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Caldwell, N.J. March 7, 2017 – Caldwell University science students took first and second place prizes at the Independent College Fund of New Jersey’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. Deborah Balthazar and Amanda Surujnauth received the first place Outstanding Poster Presentation award for their project “What is on your toothbrush? Are you brushing with fecal matter?” They focused on assessing toothbrush microbial contamination from toilet aerosols and on offering suggestions for storage and decontamination. They wanted to engage in something practical that would interest people and that “people deserve to know,” said Balthazar.

Student Gianna C. Klucker received the second place Outstanding Poster Presentation award for her project “Creation of a Novel Deodorant Using Essential Oils.”

Five other students in Natural and Physical Sciences faculty Dr. Agnes Berki’s research, conduct and composition biology class presented their projects at the symposium at Liberty Science Center, where they heard from leading New Jersey professionals in the STEM fields who gave them professional advice and insight.

ICFNJ began the symposium in 2014 to offer new undergraduate grants to its member institutions. The grants connect students with peer and faculty mentors who are engaged in research.

Also on display was Won Seok Choi and Steven S. Han’s project “Investigation of Microorganisms on Smartphones.” They found an alarming number of microorganisms and showed that smartphones can serve as a source of infections, underscoring the need to sterilize phones.

Han says doing the research gave him the chance to “put into practice the science method and see how it plays out when doing research.”

The symposium is the culmination of months of hard work by students, said Berki. “It solidifies their STEM training and prepares them for the world.”

The projects gave the students the chance to work outside the classroom or the lab and learn to work one-on-one. They develop professionally, academically and personally and learn about teamwork and public speaking, explained Berki. In addition, they “play off of each other’s strengths” and enhance their critical thinking skills, said Dr. Darryl Aucoin, assistant professor of chemistry, who worked with student Daniel Outo-Acheampong on his project “Optimizing the Growth Conditions for a Cellulose-Producing Bacterium.”

Science students Yara Abdelnabi and Michael James presented on “Optimization of Human DNA Detection in Unclean Teeth.”

Dr. Barbara Chesler, vice president for academic affairs, said doing undergraduate research is very valuable for students because they look at the reason for what they are learning and it makes them more marketable for graduate school. “It helps their chances of competing against other students for graduate school admissions,” she said.

The projects were not only educational but fun, said Han. “Dr. Berki was a great help. The students give each other moral support and helped each other out.” The research brings a “practicality to the lectures,” said Surujnauth.

The students are looking forward to displaying their work on campus at Caldwell’s research day April 26 when the university will showcase student, faculty and staff research projects across all disciplines.