Undergrads present work ‘Under the Dome’

UIC’s group at the Illinois Undergraduate Research Day event at the State of Illinois Capitol Building.

UIC’s group at the Illinois Undergraduate Research Day event at the State of Illinois Capitol Building.

Undergraduate students presented their research to state legislators May 5 in the Illinois Undergraduate Research Day event.

Informally known as “Posters Under the Dome,” it’s a collaborative endeavor, held at the State of Illinois Capitol Building, where students from the three University of Illinois campuses — Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield — showcase their work. Since 2014, the day has been dedicated to undergraduate activities and research, and it also makes state representatives and staffers more aware of the importance of involving undergraduates in research, scholarship and creative work.

Thirty students from all three campuses participated. Ten students from UIC were selected to present and nine were able to attend the event. Participants were chosen based on nominations from faculty or the Office of Undergraduate Research, as well as high scores from judges at the Student Research Forum in April.

“The UIC students who presented their research are representative of the large number of undergraduates who take advantage of being at a leading research university to engage in faculty-driven research across all disciplines,” said Emanuel Pollack, interim vice provost for undergraduate affairs. “A high impact activity in furthering student success, involvement in research contributes greatly to the intellectual and social development of undergraduates.”

Senior Nicholas Hafeman transferred to UIC to pursue a degree in chemistry in 2014 after working with Duncan Wardrop, associate professor of chemistry. Wardrop became his mentor for research in medicinal chemistry.

“It’s like drug discovery,” Hafeman said. “We’re trying to make compounds that can be used as antiviral agents against influenza. Not vaccines. Something that you can actually take once you already have the infection.”

Hafeman worked as a synthetic chemist, synthesizing molecules that were later tested to determine whether they work against the flu. He created two derivatives of existing compounds that were 60 times more potent.

Hispanic linguistics major Melissa Berrios worked with Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, assistant professor of Hispanic and Italian studies, after taking Spanish 364: Acquisition of Spanish as a Second Language.

“I changed my major from nutrition and it changed my career path,” she said.

Her research focused on bilingual adults’ acquisition of a third language — specifically English/Spanish bilinguals who began learning Portuguese — and, as adults learned Portuguese, which of the first two languages they applied when learning the third one.

“It shows us a different way of how the brain processes language,” Berrios said.

She plans to pursue a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.

Usama Ibrahim, a senior, is interested in the brain as it relates to social and physical development, and how development can be stunted when youth are put in punitive solitary confinement while in prison.

“Although people in solitary confinement make up less than 5 percent of the population, they compose 50 percent of all prison suicides,” said Ibrahim, a President’s Award Program Honors scholarship recipient who is majoring in neuroscience and political science.

“We’re looking at a clear, problematic sign. That’s a problem we should be discussing.”

Students are producing groundbreaking research said Sara Hall, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

“It has the potential to inform scholarship and public policy,” Hall said. “[Posters Under the Dome] is growing in size and impact.”

UIC’s involvement in the event is organized by the Office of Undergraduate Research, a branch of the Student Success Initiative in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs.

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