STEM Students Present Their Research at Undergraduate Symposium

Undergraduate students presented posters and oral presentations on their most recent research from laboratories across the country.

By Neha Lingareddy

On Friday, October 12, University of Chicago undergraduate students who conducted scientific research came together in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science to present their most recent projects, which spanned a wide range of scientific fields, including physics, biology, and chemistry.

The symposium featured professor Daniel Holz, a member of the LIGO collaboration who studies general relativity, astrophysics and cosmology, as the event’s keynote speaker. Students also had the chance to explore RSOs such as Benzene, NEURO Club, Society of Physics Students, and the Triple Helix. 

Interested in public health, Alexis Cacioppo, a second-year in the College, became involved in research through theUChicago Careers in Health Professions (UCIHP)Potter Fellows program. Cacioppo reviewed the educational model developed by pediatrics division University of Chicago TMW Center for Early Learning and Public Health. TMW’s educational module emphasizes neurodevelopment in addition to physical health. Cacioppo reviewed patient pre-intervention and a post-intervention surveys and found that the educational module is a useful tool in pediatric care. 


For aspiring undergraduate researchers, Cacioppo advised, “Use your classes to find out what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at, and then go after that.”


Also involved in biological research, second-year molecular engineering student William Ramos presented his research on the “effects of actin polymerization inhibition on vesicular exocytosis and recovery.” His lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) studied the effect of an actin inhibitor on a squid synapse and conducted several electrophysiological experiments. 

Ramos joined the MBL through a Metcalf internship. He enjoyed the research process but mentioned that there were occasional difficulties working with the complex physiology of a squid, which requires close precision while conducting experiments. 

Summer at the MBL pushed Ramos to be open to new topics of research. “I was initially interested in mitochondrial research, but then changed my topic to actin inhibition, which was in some ways related to my initial topic of interest,” Ramos said.

Choosing to seek out an interdisciplinary area, Mahmoud Yousef, a third-year studying computer science, worked at the University of Chicago Center for Biomedical Discovery on a bioinformatics project. His group aimed to “quantify the homogeneity of pangenomic gene clusters.” This project made use of computational methods and applied them to divide the genes into clusters; from the pattern of clusters they were able to gain ecological and evolutionary insights.

Yousef became involved in campus research after connecting with a friend’s biology professor who was looking for research assistants for his lab. 

Delving into the realm of physics, Calder Sheagren, a third-year in the College studying mathematics, worked at the University of Chicago Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics in the lab of assistant professor Erik Shirokoff. Sheagren’s project involved making dummy versions of detectors that go into telescopes. He said, “I got involved in this lab because a grad student recommended it to [me], and I really enjoyed the process, as the group really wants everyone to succeed.”

On the other side of the country, third-year physics student Michelle Chong also sought out research in physics. At the Schleier-Smith Lab at Stanford University, Chong worked on stabilizing a laser to excite atoms to precise energies. She had become interested in the Schleier-Smith Lab’s work after previously working in particle physics and hoping to do something different in the field of physics. 

“At the beginning, I was scared I didn’t bring enough to the table as an undergraduate, but I’ve realized that you just have to be excited and be open to learning. This can get you far,” Chong said.