Sixteen PLU undergraduates participated in research projects last summer that focused on the natural sciences. Everything from "Programmed Cell Death During Metamorphosis of Frog Tadpoles" to "Laser Cooling and Trapping Rubidium in a Vapor-Cell Trap" was explored.
Chemistry buffs react, bond
Led by assistant professors Stacia Rink and Jeff Schultz, 30 students bubbled to the surface in Fall 1998 to form a new chemistry club on campus.
In its meetings every other week, the group has taken a field trip to a chemistry magic show, discussed community outreach to local junior and senior high schools, arranged tours of biotechnology companies and hosted guest speakers from chemistry-related industries. The club has applied for nationally affiliated membership.
Computer scientists and engineers put PLU on the map
PLU’s nationally accredited bachelor’s degree in computer science is one of only four in Washington state; area employers have a preference for PLU computer science and engineering (CSCE) graduates; and the department’s faculty travel to conferences around the nation and around the world. These are just a few of the standout ingredients that have put PLU’s relatively small - but successful - CSCE program on the national computer science map with other, much larger players.
In addition, the department has been sending a team or two each year to the Association for Computing Machinery’s Scholastic Programming Contest. PLU has consistently scored high marks in the competition, in which some schools’ teams don’t even solve one problem.
PLU has recently helped found a Northwest regional conference on computer science at small colleges. The first annual meeting will be held at Gonzaga University in Spokane in 1999, and the second will come to PLU in 2000.
New environmental studies major offered
Students interested in the environment can now choose a major reflecting just that - environmental studies. The new major was approved by the PLU Board of Regents this fall. Features special to the program include entry through an introductory course in sciences or humanities, a required internship and a required complementary major or minor. Previously, environmental studies was offered only through an individualized major program or as a minor. The minor is still offered.
$50,000 NSF grant allows undergrads to wet feet in DNA research
Most college undergrads studying DNA sequencing and genotyping must open a book to learn how "real" scientists perform such tasks. But thanks to a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, students at PLU and two other local universities are flipping the switch on their own automated DNA sequencer and participating in authentic research studies.
The sequencer is housed at the University of Puget Sound but shared equally for teaching and research purposes with PLU and University of Washington, Tacoma.
DNA - or deoxyribonucleic acid - is the genetic "fingerprint" present in the cells of all living things. An automated DNA sequencer allows researchers to analyze and decode the highly complex genetic material, something all but impossible under more traditional methods. Having such a piece of equipment on site will allow instructors to develop laboratory courses at a depth not normally experienced in undergraduate study.
Intel grant sponsors young people's science fair
Junior high and high school students can roll up their sleeves and dive into serious science research projects when the South Sound Regional Science Fair comes to campus on Feb. 20. The event will be the first of its kind in the area.
Sponsored by two grants (total of $67,000) from the Intel Foundation, and additional support from PLU, the fair promotes student-based research and is open to all high school students in Thurston and Pierce counties. The fair offers students the chance to enter projects in a variety of science categories, and compete for cash prizes, special awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Philadelphia, Pa. Prize winnings will be donated by local and community business organizations. For more information see www.plu.edu/~scifair.
“Chaos” reigns for student math fans
Math-loving Lutes no longer need to work ahead in their textbooks to get a little extra fun with numbers. A math club - dubbed Chaos by its 16 members - was launched at PLU this fall.
Subjects covered in the monthly meetings address a range of skill levels: the mathematics behind Rubik’s Cube®, mathematics and probability associated with the board game Monopoly®, and a video discussing Fermat’s Last Theorem. Chaos members also work together to explore internships and job opportunities for one another. The group has applied for acceptance into the Mathematical Association of America.
Murdock undergrad research conference draws 19 Lutes
A contingent of 19 PLU Natural Sciences students, faculty and staff attended the Seventh Regional Conference on Undergraduate Research of the M.J. Murdock College Science Research Program Nov. 5-7. The conference was hosted by Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho, and was attended by more than 230 people representing 24 Northwest colleges and universities.
Two PLU students presented research they performed with PLU faculty last summer. Kevin Michel ’99 spoke on “Investigation of the Selectivity of a Cyanobacterial Lytic Substance from Seaweed,” from research done with Biology Professor Mike Crayton. And Kristin Tremoulet ’99 discussed “The Effect of Substrate on the Diversity of Benthic Macroinvertebrate Communities in Clover Creek,” from her work with Visiting Assistant Biology Professor Vern Stiefel. In addition to the two oral presentations, PLU students presented eight posters.
Mathematics Department reaches, teaches and excels
The Mathematics Department at PLU wants students to be able to do more than add numbers, measure angles and memorize theorems. “We strive to develop students’ ability and mental precision necessary to analyze, criticize and create work in mathematics,” noted Chair and Associate Professor Rachid Benkhalti.
While math or math education majors make up only about 20 percent of students taking math courses at PLU, most - 60 percent - are involved as part of another major that requires mathematics. The remaining 20 percent are taking math classes as part of their general university requirements. A placement system developed in 1989 for beginning math classes helps ensure that students have the necessary preparation for particular courses.
For decades at PLU, students have participated and performed very well in national and international mathematics competitions. And over just the past 10 years, department faculty have shown excellence in teaching and scholarship in various ways. For example, more than 25 research articles have been published (10 more are in progress); one textbook has been published (two others are in progress); a computer classroom was equipped through a National Science Foundation grant; and one Fulbright Fellowship was awarded.
Using a Brunton compass, geosciences Professor Brian Lowes shows Signe Bauman '98 how to measure the orientation (direction) of the tightly folded "chert" beds of rock they are perched on. The orientation of the folds is north to south , the rocks were formed by pressures coming from west to east. Lowes, a 30-year veteran faculty member, regularly conducts field trips to this site at Rim Rock Lake near White Pass, Wash.
Research program pairs PLU faculty with high school science teachers
Several faculty members have become involved with Partners in Science, a grant program available nationwide that provides local high school science teachers with a university-based, one-on-one mentored research experience. Biology professors Angelia Alexander (chair), Mike Crayton and Art Gee have received grants in the past; Physics Assistant Professor Shannon Mayer is currently partnered with Auburn High School physics teacher Dean Stainbrook '87; and three other PLU faculty have applied.
The high school teachers develop an improved image and sense of community. University faculty mentors benefit not only from research assistance, but also from contact with those shaping their future students. All develop a broader understanding of the linkages between high school and college science education.
Partners in Science is administered by the Research Corporation and funded in the Pacific Northwest by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Each grant provides $14,000 over two years; included in that total is a $5,000 stipend for the high school teacher for each of two summers.
Undergrad research uncovers negative impact on organism diversity in Tacoma's Clover Creek
B Y M I C H E L L E W A R M U T H , E D I T O R I A L A S S I S T A N T
|Kristin Tremoulet '99 examines a rock from Clover Creek, where she spent eight weeks researching the negative impact an asphalt water bed has on the creek's organisms.
In 1967 a section of Clover Creek, a small stream in Tacoma, was diverted into an asphalt channel to control flooding. Last summer, Kristin Tremoulet '99, along with Melissa Montgomery '00, Jon Kullnat '99 and Assistant Biology Professor Vern Stiefel, researched the negative impact the asphalt water bed still has on the creek's organism structure more than 30 years later.
During an eight-week period, the group identified and compared the diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates (animals without a spine, such as snails and insects, living on or in the surface of bottom sediments) at creek sites with an asphalt substrate (substrate means mineral or organic material that forms the bed of a stream) to those at sites with a natural substrate.
Each Monday the group went to four sites on the creek - two with natural beds (sand, rocks, plant material, wood) and two with unnatural beds (unbroken asphalt with some sand, cobbles and boulders). They collected organisms at the sites to determine their identity and composition. They also collected water samples to measure temperature, pH, nutrient concentrations, dissolved oxygen and discharge, data that were used to determine their effect on the composition of benthic communities.
Varying numbers of groups of organisms were found at each site. Many groups were the same from site to site, but the number of individuals within each group varied greatly. Diversity of organisms was highest at the sites with a natural substrate compared to those with an asphalt substrate. The Waller Road and Tahoma Land Trust sites had the largest number of total groups - 31 and 40 respectively. The 134th Street and Tule Lake Road sites had 28 and 27 groups respectively, of which the majority of individuals were from one classification. Water temperature, pH, nutrients, dissolved oxygen and discharge were found to have no direct effect on organism diversity.
The results support the group's hypothesis that diversity would be negatively affected by the channelization of the stream. A collective paper was written about the research, which Tremoulet presented at the Seventh Regional Conference on Undergraduate Research of the Murdock College Science Research Program Nov. 5-7 in Nampa, Idaho.
The Clover Creek Council has been working to reintroduce Coho and Chinook salmon into the creek. Since these fish eat macroinvertebrates, the results of the PLU study will be used to determine if the fish will have an adequate food source.
"What better way to experience summer in the Northwest," said Tremoulet, a native of Lebanon, Ill., about her research experience. "I was interested in this project because it involved the environment. Also, in addition to a great learning opportunity, undergraduate research allows students to experience a more personal relationship with professors."
In addition to making the PLU Dean's List, Tremoulet is co-editor of Saxifrage, PLU's annual creative arts magazine, and is a member of the PLU Art Guild. Somehow, she also finds time to volunteer at W.W. Seymour Botanical Gardens in Tacoma. Last summer Tremoulet was in charge of the new PLU Community Garden. After graduation in May, Tremoulet, a biology major and art and environmental studies minor, will pursue job possibilities in botany, urban gardening or environmental art.
Simple Curiosity drives Tang's research
B Y L A U R E L W I L L O U G H B Y , A S S I S T A N T E D I T O R
The stuff of K.T. Tang's nine-to-five world wouldn't exactly make light cocktail-party chatter: "Multipolar Polarizabilities and Dispersion Coefficients of Alkali Soelectronic Sequences," "The Anisotropic Potentials of He-N2, Ne-N2 and A-N2," "Charge Exchange Between Singly Ionized Helium Ions."
OK, so how does the PLU physics professor scale down these subjects to tell the common Joe what he does for a living?
"I usually just say, 'I am a teacher,'" notes Tang, a 31-year veteran of the PLU faculty.
For someone truly interested in knowing what he does, Tang does have a layman's description of his core areas of study - dynamics of reaction processes and intermolecular interactions.
Everything is made of atoms and molecules that bounce around and hit each other, creating temperature and pressure changes. When these particles collide, one of two things can happen: 1) The particles can change direction, with no energy interchanged. This is known as an elastic scattering; or 2) There can be a transfer of energy, in which one particle becomes more excited, and the other moves away with slower speed. This is known as the transport phenomenon.
"For instance, in a chemical reaction, two atoms form a molecule, and a third atom comes in to break them up," Tang says. Understanding how and why these changes occur makes up the bulk of his research.
"I feel teaching is my calling, but research is an integral part of my profession. If I'm not excited about what I'm doing - continuing, growing, being curious - how can I transmit that energy to my students?" he says.
In fact, Tang has directly involved students in his research from the very beginning, often listing them as co-authors of papers that have eventually been published as journal articles. This type of early recognition made it possible for some students to gain good fellowships, and 20 years later, they are all well-established in their fields.
Tang has had more than 100 research papers published in journals, and he has given numerous conference reports and invited talks. In 1992 he won Germany's prestigious Humboldt Distinguished Senior U.S. Scientist Award, considered among the
"I feel teaching is my calling, but research is an integral part of my profession. If I'm not excited about what I'm doing...how can I transmit that energy to my students?"|
K.T. TANG, PHYSICS PROFESSOR
highest honors given to internationally recognized scholars. Each year the Humboldt Foundation grants 80 research awards to senior and junior scientists in the United States. Winners do not directly apply; they must be nominated by eminent German scholars.
So has Tang found more answers to physics puzzles by setting out to find them - or have the answers come looking for him?
"There are two types of research," he explains. "Mission-oriented has a definite purpose and a process: What do we and don't we understand about a particular thing? But you'll find that most fundamental principals are not discovered that way."
Instead, important findings seem to come about most often by accident or through following an interesting trail. This is basic research, a little like "shooting an arrow first, then placing the target where it falls," he says with a smile.
"History tells us that the payoff for this is very great," Tang says. "We may hope for or expect results to lead us in one direction, but the opposite often happens - to our ultimate benefit. For example, NASA's placement of a man on the moon, seeing glasses for blind people and the television are all unforeseen products of what started out as basic research."
Tang's own research is driven by this same, simple curiosity.
"I spend a lot of time mulling over the facts, the math and the logic involved," he says. "It's a slow process, and I have a hard time convincing my wife that I'm actually working when I'm looking out the window. But eventually instinct takes over, or sometimes there's a trigger that makes the facts fall into place."
Potatoes as pathways to learning
B Y G R E G B R E W I S , E X E C U T I V E D I R E C T O R
O F U N I V E R S I T Y C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
|One day last semester Biology Professor Tom Carlson handed out potatoes to his freshman biology lab as an experiment in understanding cell biology.|
One day last semester, Tom Carlson brought a sack of potatoes to class. One potato for every two students. He's hoping that his freshman biology lab will find enzymes in them.
"The students are doing an experiment that they want to do, not something they were told to do. They designed it themselves," Carlson said. "I'm not sure it's going to work. They may not get the results they anticipate, but that's science."
That's also typical of Carlson's approach to teaching. A professor of biology at PLU for 24 years, he takes particular delight in finding innovative ways to reach his students.
"Most of us have a gut sense of how a complex idea might be explained. We often can see a clear progression of steps that will bring insight to someone who is new to any topic," Carlson said.
"But for me the fascination in teaching comes when that simple explanation brings blank stares from students. They just don't get it. That's the challenge of teaching. How can I put these concepts in terms that each individual student can grasp? What are the alternate pathways?"
The potato experiment is a pathway to understanding cell biology. It's designed to demonstrate something about how enzymes work. The students hope to see if there is any difference between the enzyme content of the peel and that of the heart of the potato. They will process the potato and use a spectrophotometer to take measurements.
"Not long ago we wouldn't have had the equipment needed to conduct this experiment in groups smaller than four students. Thanks to grants from the National Science Foundation and the Murdock Charitable Trust, we have been able to purchase the equipment and support the undergraduate research that is making biology more accessible for all students," Carlson said.
One of Carlson's students, freshman Joe Thatcher of Buckley, Wash., says that he is amazed how accessible his professors are and how easy it is to learn when you're in a lab of 15 students and one professor.
"I knew that PLU had a reputation for giving personal attention, but I was surprised to be in a lab with no graduate teaching assistants. All of the labs and all of the discussion sections in intro biology are taught by professors," Thatcher said. "It was not what I expected. It sure makes it easier to be successful in class."
For Carlson, teaching and students are the heart of his job. "When people buy into working at a place like PLU, they are making a commitment to undergraduate teaching," he said. "The nature of our students is one of the real attractions to me here at PLU. They are nice people and, in many cases, enthusiastic about learning. The fact that they are also young allows me to keep a youthful outlook."
The self-effacing Carlson will only reluctantly admit that great teaching can make a real difference. He says success in college is mostly in the learning, "My belief is that ultimately it is up to the students to determine how good of an education they will get. It depends on how much time and intellectual energy they want to invest in it."
Astrophysicist Dale Fixsen ’77 basks in the glow of cosmic background radiation
B Y B R A D D B U S I C K ' 9 9
Those who look up into the dark night sky and contemplate the distinction between stars, planets and satellites, may wonder what do we know about an environment that is billions of miles away?
Dale J. Fixsen ‘77 is one that has an answer to that inquiry.
Fixsen, who double-majored in math and physics at PLU and continued his education at Princeton, has had a unique role in the exploration of space, specifically in the area of the cosmic microwave background radiation that illuminates our sky. This radiation is considered to be definitive proof of the big bang theory of the evolution of the universe.
Fixsen lead one of the world’s premier research teams in determining the far infrared background intensity of the cosmic microwave background. His knowledge on the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite also called upon in finding a solution to this problem.
Through extensive research and collaboration of international teams, it was determined that the background in space is 2.3 times as bright as the visible light in the universe. Through continuous research, Fixsen and others hope to identify the source of the background, measure the glow at shorter wavelengths, and determine how it has varied with the age of the universe and look for fluctuations. These findings will improve measurements of galaxy motions, and the expansion of the universe.
Fixsen was involved in the development of MSAM, a program in which a 1 ½ meter telescope will be raised 125,000 feet over the state of Texas to observe the microwave background.
Fixsen is currently working with the TOPHAT project, which involves mounting a 1-meter telescope on top of a balloon above Antarctica for two weeks, providing yet another perspective for examining the microwave background.
Fixsen said his desire to explore the universe developed after graduating from PLU, and during his schooling in Princeton. Fixsen’s involvement in space allows him to work with such organizations as NASA, Sperry and Burrows, now known as Unisys.
His experience with the stars have lead him into the sea as well. Fixsen has worked with superconductors that when combined with the correct circuits, can detect the magnetic field of a submarine, resulting in the development of submarine detectors.
Fixsen says he thoroughly enjoys his job and the projects he is currently working on.
Fixsen is currently working for Raytheon ITSS. He resides in Savave, MD, and enjoys time with his wife Elizabeth, and their three children Benjamin, Sarah, and Rachel. Although he has not been to PLU in recent years, Fixsen said he remains in contact with numerous faculty and mentioned his son is considering PLU following high school.
$500,000 Keck Foundation grant funds observatory, geosciences
|This architectural rendering shows the W.M. Keck Observatory that will be built on lower campus in 1999.|
More direct study of the earth and the sky by undergraduates will result from a
$500,000 grant from The W.M. Keck Foundation to PLU and the Division of Natural Sciences. Student research will be greatly enhanced through state-of-the-art tools and new facilities.
Established in 1954 by W.M. Keck, the foundation makes grants designed to provide far-reaching benefits for humanity in the fields of science, engineering and medical research. The foundation also wishes to ensure that today’s youth receive a high quality, well-rounded education. To that end, it supports programs designed to promote innovative instruction and research at leading liberal arts colleges across the nation.
Project coordinator: Steve Starkovich, assistant professor of physics
Housed in a separate structure on lower campus near the softball/soccer fields and golf course, the observatory features a 16" Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope, a 17-foot retractable dome, a large-format digital camera for research activities, and five 8" telescopes on permanent piers for educational use. Rieke Science Center will include an astronomy facility with computer networking for coordinated work between it and the observatory itself.
The 16-inch telescope will be one of the largest research-grade telescopes in the Puget Sound region, and will be open to the public on occasion. Construction starts in 1999, and PLU hopes to dedicate the building in Fall 1999.
Astrometric (position) observations of known asteroids, as well as the search for
new asteroids, will be the principal research activities of the observatory. PLU intends to
become part of the Near-Earth Asteroid Research network and to work with other
observatories in the study of these minor planets.
Photometric observations (color determinations) of variable stars and stellar
clusters (collections of stars from a few in number to 100,000) will be conducted as well.
Many variable stars have yet to be studied in careful detail, and photometric studies of
stellar clusters is an important component in determining the age of the cluster.
For updates on the observatory’s progress, see www.nsci.plu.edu/astro.
Project coordinator: Duncan Foley, associate professor of Geosciences and chair of the Department of Geosciences
Loud-banging hammers, quiet-bouncing lasers, and seismograms of a recent Bremerton earthquake all mark major, Keck-funded changes underway in Geosciences.
The Geosciences portion of the Keck grant includes a variety of projects, which will heavily involve undergraduate student participation and research. Field installations funded by Keck include a seismic station with a research-grade seismometer, a weather station with instrument tower and weather sensors, and a well field, which involves drilling and testing wells for groundwater resource protection and research purposes. Environmental monitoring equipment for field data collection is also part of the grant. Students in Geophysics and Hydrogeology will benefit from a magnetometer survey calibration site (the magnetometer was purchased earlier with funds from a National Science Foundation grant).
Two new rooms are being renovated from a former storeroom in the Rieke Science building to become the Keck Center for Mapping and the Keck Microscopy Room. The Keck Center for Mapping will provide students with ready access to geographic information system (GIS) capabilities. The mapping center will also house the base-station computer for our global positioning system (GPS). The field capabilities of the GPS system are being upgraded with Keck support. The mapping center will have a large scanner, a large printer, and a laminator (in case we wish to take maps out into the rain), and will be available for students and faculty in other departments. The Keck Microscopy Room will house a Keck-funded research-grade petrographic microscope, for the study of rocks and minerals in thin sections.
Established in 1954 by W.M. Keck, the foundation makes grants designed to provide far-reaching benefits for humanity in the fields of science, engineering and medical research. The foundation also wishes to ensure that today's youth receive a high quality, well-rounded education.|
Research opportunities for students will be increased greatly through this Keck support. The new capstone requirement, which involves senior students in geoscience research as part of their PLU program, will generate much use of the new equipment and facilities. From straightforward studies (how does water flow in local streams relate to groundwater conditions, just how fast does the aquifer below campus rise when winter rains arrive?) to complex cartographic issues of geological and environmental information, curriculum-wide opportunities will become available.
For updates on Geosciences progress, see www.nsci.plu.edu/geos.