Students share findings at Frontiers exhibition in Wilbur Cross Building

UConn biomedical engineering student Thomas Cotton presents his research results on a poster in the Wilbur Cross Building during Frontiers in Undergraduate Research, UConn’s annual research poster exhibition, on Saturday, April 9, 2016. (/The Daily Campus)

Each spring, Wilbur Cross becomes a labyrinth of achievement and ingenuity, filled with students who have contributed something new to society through their undergraduate research, paving the way for progress in their academic fields.

While it may appear that Frontiers, the University of Connecticut’s annual research poster exhibition, is reserved for students in science, technology, engineering and math, a large group of students within the arts and humanities set-up shop at the event and proved that wrong.

Among them was Jasmine Jones, an eighth-semester photography major, who received the university’s IDEA grant to make a documentary exploring the cultural appropriation of “voguing,” an expressive dance form born during the Harlem Renaissance in New York City’s African-American communities.

“There’s a history of blacks and Latinos losing their culture,” Jones said. “A different face takes over and their culture is no longer related to them.”

She explained how African-Americans created rock ‘n’ roll and jazz, but because these forms of expression were disassociated from them, they had to continuously reinvent themselves to retain their distinctive cultures.

“It’s a form of racism that’s not really seen as racism,” Jones said. “We need to be educated when it comes to history. Once people know, we can move forward.”

Jones’ friend, Madeline Nicholson, a sixth-semester anthropology major, displayed pictures of her recent exhibition across from Jones. She too received an IDEA grant.

“I wanted to bring about the discomfort of not knowing what you’re looking at or hearing,” Nicholson said, turning toward a set of indeterminable photos.

Her project started when she noticed “after-images” – images we see directly after our eyes close. The rods and cones that create those images are cooling, she said, and that creates an indistinguishable image.

In her exhibition, she projected images through a curtain and onto four walls in a way that would make the projections abstracted, creating a space that would bring people into the moment between seeing and not seeing.

Other undergraduate researchers added to the mosaic of disciplines exhibiting in the event. These students included political science majors like Christian Caron, who is in his eighth semester.

Caron conducted a study relevant to the current political landscape in the United States, especially with a presidential election defined around controversial candidates on both the conservative and liberal sides. He looked at super PACs, who are groups that spend money to support particular political candidates or parties.

“I wanted to find out how transparent single-candidate super PACs were for members of Congress running for reelection,” he said. “The least transparent super PACs were in support of incumbent candidates.”

Transparency, he said, is how open these groups are in disclosing where they’re finances have gone. Incumbent candidates, or those that currently hold a position in Congress, were most likely to have support from super PACs that raise what Caron calls “dark money,” which is often untraceable.

He said incumbents want to influence public policy and tend to support business interests, making bad publicity especially detrimental to their goals. To avoid that bad publicity, super PACs withhold information about their finances.

Over time, Caron said, transparency by super PACs has been diminishing, according to his study. He said political supporters are learning not to have their names or finances disclosed when they spend large sums in support of candidates. This kind of research is important to Caron because voters need to know by whom their candidates are influenced.

Edward McInerney, a fourth-semester political science major, nodded in agreement. His project deals with the results of the Paris climate conference that was held last year. One hundred and eighty countries signed an agreement to reduce global fossil fuel emissions and slow climate change. But each country’s proposals for actually implementing change was different, according to McInerney’s research.

A majority of the student research presented was in the STEM fields, including Anurag Ojha, a sixth-semester biomedical engineering major, who created a device that would steadily release pain drugs into the body over a period of time.

“Let’s say you’ve been playing football and you have a shoulder strain,” Ojha said. “You’d put the device in and boom, you’d be good for a while.”

When Josepth DeSisto, an eighth-semester ecology and evolutionary biology major, tried to identify a centipede he found in western Virginia, he discovered that the person who described the species in the past had done it wrong. Now he is working to properly describe the centipede and in the process, he said he has taken on the title of “The Centipede Guy.”

“Centipedes are really interesting, but not a lot of people are studying them,” DeSisto said. “People started sending me centipedes and eventually I become known for them.”

DiSisto, like many others at Frontiers, are aspiring researchers that have big plans for the future. He himself is applying for a scientific assistant position in at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he would help take care of the creepy crawly things he spent his undergraduate career studying.


Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at diler.haji@uconn.edu.