Aug. 4 – Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium; keynote by Voiland dean

Rezac Mary wsu voiland dean 2017PULLMAN, Wash. – The 2017 WSU Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium, featuring presentations from 90 students from across the nation including WSU, will be open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Fri., Aug. 4, in the Smith CUE Atrium.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin with a keynote presentation by Mary Rezac, dean of Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, at 9 a.m. in Smith CUE, room 202.

Coming from 54 universities, plus the WSU Pullman and Vancouver campuses and Pullman High School, the students have been living on the Palouse and working with WSU faculty for the past 10 weeks. Project topics range from bioscience to landscape ecology, atmosphere, smart environments, biofuels and plant genomics.

Projects are largely sponsored with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates, the U.S.D.A., and faculty grants.

“WSU’s top researchers have been honored to host these summer researchers, work with these outstanding students, and have the students share their results at the annual poster symposium,” said Shelley Pressley, director of WSU’s Office of Undergraduate Research.

“Faculty seek undergraduates to join their teams in summer because they want to mentor the next generation, and they know these students make tremendous contributions to their ongoing projects.

“The students benefit by gaining valuable hands-on experience with research and creative activities, and build their resumes while learning about WSU, its great researchers and having fun.”

For many students, the experience has opened their eyes to the world of possibilities research offers.

A research opportunity

Raquel Murillo studying bacteria
Raquel Murillo conducting bacteria research

Excited to participate in the opportunities a university can offer, Raquel Murillo transferred to WSU in summer 2016 after earning an associate’s degree from Tacoma Community College.

“At a community college, there aren’t many research opportunities, so I couldn’t wait for the university experience,” she said.

Murillo, a junior in chemical engineering is working with Nehal Abu-Lail, a professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering to study a multidrug resistant strain of Escherichia coli (E.coli). The research project focuses on how the bacteria’s cell membrane interacts with antibiotics at a nanoscale level.

The researchers also will test the antimicrobial ability of plant extracts commonly used in home remedies such as: garlic, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, and cranberries.

“Professor Abu-Lail is known around the world for her research,” said Murillo. “There is nothing like the experience of being around someone who can truly mentor you. She is a great mentor and is constantly providing me with information and resources that can help with my research.

“You are working with Ph.D. students and amazing researchers, a lot of great mentors who want to teach you,” she added. “This is a great learning experience.”

“Raquel has shown great work ethic. She is reliable, persistent, inquisitive, and disciplined,” said Abu-Lail. “It has been great to have her as part of our laboratory team.”

Never too early to start

Lucy Ward programming robot
Lucy Ward tests her robot program

Lucy Ward is one of a handful of recent high school graduates who are participating in WSU’s Summer Undergraduate Research program. With a mother as a professor, Lucy Ward grew up surrounded by academics. So, it’s no surprise that a week after graduating high school, Ward began her research project.

Ward, an incoming freshman at the University of Wyoming, is working with Diane Cook, a professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to build a robot that can work with Cook’s smart home system to assist older residents.

The current smart home system can detect habits and routine activities, but it can do little to assist someone who is struggling. However, the robot will be able to tell if a resident has skipped one of their routine activities, approach the resident and remind them to complete it, and provide assistance with completing the task if necessary. Ward is testing the capabilities of the robotic arm, evaluating the accuracy of the visualization software that generates a map of the Smart Home, and checking the accuracy of the odometer readings from the robot.

“I’m working with a lot of smart people and we’re working together to create something that will help others,” said Ward. “The idea of taking real data and applying it to answer a question is really cool.”

At the beginning of the year, the Office of Undergraduate Research holds information sessions to introduce students to the research opportunities available to them on campus.

Kristian Gubsch has been interested in research since he was a freshman. A sophomore chemical engineering, Gubsch is helping Candis Claiborn and Von Walden, professors in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, build a network of inexpensive air quality sensors to monitor Spokane’s air quality in real-time. The project is in collaboration with Urbanova, a smart city living laboratory in the Spokane University District that is testing solutions to address urban challenges in new ways. The air quality sensors will measure temperature, pressure, humidity, carbon dioxide and particulate matters.

“I really enjoy the hands-on experience from this research project,” said Gubsch. “Figuring out how things work is fun.”

Research is for everyone

Kristian Gusch and Yoni Rodriguez working on sensors
Yoni Rodriguez and Kristian Gusch create an interactive laboratory module sensor

Sophomore biochemistry major Yoni Rodriguez is also working with Walden to create an interactive laboratory module to introduce undergraduate students to environmental engineering using sensors modeled after the air quality sensors being used in Urbanova. The lab module will provide students with hands-on engineering, computer programming, and research development skills as they develop their own experiments using the real-time data collected by the air quality sensors.

“My researching experience has made me realize that anybody can do research, as long as you know what you want to do and you work for it,” said Rodriguez.

“I went through a big learning curve with this research project. I didn’t have a background in computer science or engineering so everything I was doing was new to me, but I overcame that by asking a lot of questions and trying it.”

“I have been really impressed by the amount and the quality of the research performed by Kristian and Yoni this summer,” said Walden. “As their mentor, I just pointed in the direction that they should go, but they really pushed this research project forward. Their work this summer will allow us to deploy more sensors in Spokane this fall.”

The showcase is organized by the Office of Undergraduate Research, part of WSU Undergraduate Education.


Media Contacts:

  • Shelley Pressley, director, WSU Office of Undergraduate Research, 509-335-5443,
  • Beverly Makhani, director of communications and marketing, WSU Undergraduate Education, 509-335-6679,