SERA Research Tracks

Program Format

Students participating in the Science & Engineering Research Academy will earn 4 university credits by taking an interdisciplinary research course that teaches fundamental concepts in the particular track they choose, leading to more specific topics current in the field. Students will learn how to compose a formal research report and gain key communication skills to effectively present findings.

During the first half of the program, students will participate in specially designed hands-on labs that demonstrate concepts and reinforce principles learned in lecture. In the second half, the focus will shift from labs to group discussions in order to allow students to develop an appropriate research question, investigate findings, and present the results in a formal capstone seminar on the last day of the program.

The general academic component of the program is as follows:

Week 1: 4 Lectures | 2 Labs | 2 Discussions | 2 GRIT talks

Week 2: 4 Lectures | 2 Labs | 2 Discussions | 1 GRIT talk

Week 3: 4 Lectures | 3 Discussions | 2 GRIT talks

Week 4: 3 Lectures | 3 Discussions | 2 GRIT talks | Capstone Seminar

2018 Research Tracks

Track 1: Plastic Fantastic – Current Topics in Synthetic Polymer Research
Disciplines: Engineering, Materials, Chemistry, Physics

Polymers are all around us. Natural polymers, like proteins, have been ubiquitous since the beginning of life. Only in the last century or so has humankind developed the scientific expertise and technologies needed to synthesize useful polymers, like those used for lightweight storage containers or reusable bags. Now, in the developed world, we benefit from the cheap, disposable, lightweight, flexible, and durable nature of plastics. Synthetic polymers can be designed and made to fit nearly any need. In this course, we’ll dive into current topics of polymer research. We will first touch on the great achievements in polymer science and engineering. We will then look more in-depth at specific research endeavors that companies and universities are undertaking. We will connect scientific or engineering concepts with work that local start-up companies are pursuing. For example, we will perform laboratory experiments to see how polymers can be more sustainable – from renewable feedstocks to recycling or breakdown in landfills. We will also look at work that academic institutions have taken on, e.g., “soft” robotics. For their final project, students will continue experiments that we will explore in the first two weeks and will work together in a small group to perform original research. While much of the course will focus on basic concepts of polymer science and engineering, the students will also learn valuable skills that can be applied across all scientific disciplines, like how to develop a research question; how to perform original research; and how to present research.

Track 2: It's a Small World – the Microorganisms in and Around You
Disciplines: Microbiology, Biochemistry, Environmental Science

How small can a living thing be? Small units of life, known as cells, can be as small as 0.1 micrometers in diameter. That's only 0.000004 inches! Despite their tiny sizes, microorganisms are an indispensable part of life on Earth. From oxygen-producing algae to disease-causing bacteria, microorganisms play all kinds of roles in our lives. In this course, we bring together tools in microbiology, biochemistry, and environmental science to study the world of small living things around us,with a specific focus on bacteria. Students will apply their knowledge and laboratory skills to answer experimental questions such as how long meat takes to become harmful to humans at different temperatures, what conditions support growth of bacteria that are beneficial to plant development, and what amount of harmless bacteria coexist with humans on different parts of the human body. At the end of the course, students will have learned key concepts from college-level environmental microbiology and understood, in a hands-on manner, the logical structure underlying the scientific method.

Track 3: The Story of Life on Earth – Pink Dolphins, Flying Snakes, Zombie Ants and All Life on Earth
Disciplines: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Animal Behavior

Survival of the Fittest?! Why can fish breathe under water but whales cannot? Why do baboons have big red butts? Where can we find pygmy elephants and tiny hippopotami? In this course, you will learn how natural selection has shaped such crazy adaptions, throughout time and all over the world. From bacteria to giant Sequoias, to dinosaurs to humans, we will break down and try to explain the questions above and the patterns we see in nature and all around us. We will dive into the fields within biology known as ecology, evolution, and animal behavior and study the relationships between life and its environment. To best understand why there are so many different kinds of living things and their complex interactions, we will study evolution through cutting edge scientific findings and examples of animals with unique adaptations. We will explore the diversity we see in the world and discuss human impacts on global climates, species extinctions, environmental alterations, and the role of conservation.

Track 4: World in Distress – Understanding the Origins of and Seeking Solutions to Modern Conflicts
Disciplines: Global Studies, International Relations, Political Science, History

It seems that no matter what region we look at, some crisis is unfolding: the rise and fall of ISISin the Middle East, the refugee crises in Europe, Russian annexation of Crimea, drug wars in Latin America, and immigration bans in the United States. How can we understand the origins of these conflicts? What are the different perspectives of the parties involved? And what are some of the possible resolutions for these conflicts? These are the questions we will attempt to answer in this course. Students enrolled in this course will be asked to select a current conflict they wish to examine as a research group and are expected to become knowledgeable about the origins of the selected conflict, the major actors involved, and the proposed resolutions to the conflict. Students do not need to have prior experience in studying conflicts or politics and they can select both traditional conflicts (like the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen or the persecution of Rohingyas Muslims in Myanmar) as well as nontraditional conflicts (such as climate change and internet privacy). In addition to examining the world’s most urgent conflicts, the course aims to provide students with training and tools needed to conduct research in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This includes exploring the different types of methods available, how to construct a strong research question, writing a thorough literature review, finding and analyzing sources, and effectively integrating findings into a research paper.

Previous SERA Capstone Seminar Programs