One STEP Closer
Electron tunneling is not an easy concept to understand, but Bryce Frentz ’14, Sioux Falls, S.D., explains the phenomenon like this:
Rubber balls of red, blue, orange, yellow and green catapult into motion. Most hit one wall and bounce toward another. But the yellow and green balls careen through the walls, leaving the other balls behind.
As a freshman, Frentz, a physics and mathematics major, investigated how long it takes for electrons to bounce or “tunnel” through a “wall.” He completed his research with Dr. Luiz Manzoni, assistant professor of physics. Their discoveries will be added to the knowledge base of quantum physics.
At Concordia, research is not just reserved for upperclassmen. Ten first-year students completed summer research projects with faculty members. They studied topics ranging from the breakdown of sulfa drugs to the diversity of fungi in native and non-native grasslands.
To support the research, Concordia received a STEP grant from the National Science Foundation. The program is designed to expand student talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Many institutions have high quality undergraduate research experiences,” says Dr. Susan Larson, director of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and National Fellowships. “But it is less common to include first-year students in undergraduate research.”
This is the inaugural year of the program at Concordia, and Larson hopes it will help Concordia to engage and retain high-level science students like Frentz.
Frentz dreams of designing concert halls. His summer research brings him one step closer to becoming an acoustical engineer, which combines his natural gifts in science with his affinity for music. He plays tuba and trombone in The Concordia Band and The Concordia Jazz Band.
“We’re doing calculations that no one has done before,” Frentz says. “It’s challenging and fun.”
One of his favorite aspects of the project was working one-on-one with his professor.
“Whenever I had questions, he was always available,” Frentz says.
Professors also appreciate working with rookie researchers. Manzoni says first-year students bring a noticeable level of energy and fearlessness to their work.
“The one thing that makes the work with freshmen an extremely rewarding experience is their willingness to explore new problems and fields. They are not afraid to try new approaches, and they are eager to learn,” he says. “Of course, most of these characteristics are also shared by our upperclassmen, but somehow they are even more evident in freshmen students.”
Lacey Shiue '14, White Bear Lake, Minn., shares the unquenchable curiosity seen in so many first-year students. For as long as she can remember, Shiue has asked why.
This past summer, she and Dr. Krystle Strand, assistant professor of biology, and Larson, associate professor of psychology, observed lupus-prone mice for differences in behavior and gene expression compared to control animals. Shiue visited her mice daily, conducting behavioral and gene expression analysis.
Strand encouraged her to apply for the program. Shiue learned laboratory techniques during her research that she hadn’t had the chance to learn in the classroom.
“I haven’t had a lot of lab classes yet,” she says. “I’m learning that there is a lot to explore outside of the classroom.”
A portion of the STEP grant money is being used to make science and mathematics courses more exciting for students. Case-based learning is used in biology courses to show students how class material applies to real life problems. A new studio physics course uses hands-on laboratory experiences to make abstract principles come alive.
Captivating classes and early research opportunities help students get a taste of their futures. Shiue, a chemistry and psychology major, is looking forward to a career in medicine. Her discoveries today might influence how she provides treatment for her own patients someday.
“I’m understanding how the body works so I can apply my knowledge later,” she says.
Story: Danielle Hance
Photo: Sheldon Green