Mosquitoes, chipmunks, and sunfish found their way to the William D. Walsh Library on Aug. 14, when students from the Louis Calder Center’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (CSUR) presented their research at the program’s 16th annual symposium. While actual species might not have flown, scurried, or swum onto the fourth floor Special Collections Room, the young scientists brought them to life through research.
The program, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), offers paid opportunities for undergraduates from various colleges to research a variety of biological field studies. For many of the students, the highly selective CSUR represents a practical step toward a career in the field. A keynote address delivered via teleconference from NSF Program Director Pushpa Murthy, Ph.D. pointed students toward the next step, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which Murthy described as “very well regarded by the community.”
Following Murthy’s lecture, Sabrina Ferrara of Stonehill College discussed ovitrap systems used to attract mosquitoes for research. Taking a whimsical approach, Ferrara’s research topic was titled, Project Mosquito Runway: Which Ovitrap Will Win? Treating three mosquito species as judges, Ferrara set out to analyze what types of ovitrap designs and materials most attracted the mosquitoes to lay their eggs.
Of the three ovitraps Ferrara analyzed, two used small swatches placed in a liquid-filled container; one was made of flat wood, the other was made of pink velour. Another container was lined with germination paper, not unlike a coffee filter, and covered more surface. In the end analysis, the germination paper won, as more surface catches more critters. But Ferrara said that velour made a strong showing, despite its design. In true Runway fashion, she suggested the study test a variety of colors for the velour as well.
Ferrara was careful to frame her study in the fact that each of the mosquito species is a carrier of diseases that harm humans. Ferrara’s talk echoed a point stressed by Murthy on advising students of criteria in applying for federally funded fellowships.
“Imagine your uncle who has no scientific background in science saying, ‘Why should my tax dollars go to support you,'” said Murtha. “You must show how you will share your project with society.”
To that end, the 10 CSUR students were taking initial steps to present scientific data to the public.
Diana Morales, a Macaulay Honors student at CUNY Lehman College, said that as a Sleepy Hollow High School student she became familiar with the Calder Center and the mentorship of Fordham Professor John Wehr, Ph.D. Though she had already been studying at Calder through a variety of high school programs, the CSUR allowed her to come back as an undergrad. She said that studying at the nature-bound location seeps into the approach to learning.
“They [mentors]want you to grow and be your own boss,” said Morales. “They will guide you, but you pick your own path.”
Evan Miller, a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., knew of Calder because his dad is the campus veterinarian. His presentation was on the ecological factors that influence the nesting of sunfish. He said that learning science in the natural environment of Calder is unique.
“I prefer being outdoors than in the lab,” he said, adding that his project required him to fish—something he also does for recreation.