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At Augustana College, options for scientific research grow

Officials of Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, recently reported a 54 percent increase in the number of students participating in the college’s Summer Research Program, an initiative that places undergraduates in the field at laboratories and study tanks throughout the U.S.

In the summer of 2010, 59 students participated in summer research opportunities. This summer, 92 students are working alongside faculty members, exploring everything from platelet-biogenesis to the impact of ultrafast laser pulses on molecular fragmentation.

Officials say the increase in undergraduate researchers is the result of two parallel tracks, each of which has experienced significant growth.

Student Evan Gardner, class of 2013, works with Dr. Barrett Eichler, associate professor of chemistry. Photo provided by Augustana College

The number of students pursuing majors within the Natural Sciences has been steadily increasing. In 2005, the college reported 169 biology majors, 60 chemistry majors, and 26 physics majors.

For the 2010-11 academic year, the college reported 265 biology majors (a 56 percent increase); 84 chemistry majors (a 40 percent increase); and 41 physics majors (a 57 percent increase).

In addition, the number of research-related grants received by the institution and its professors has also grown, a result that Dr. Mark Larson, assistant professor of biology and Augustana’s Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) coordinator, attributes to sheer momentum.

“It’s easier for me to make the case for a grant when I can show that I can do the research, that I have the equipment necessary, and that I have skilled and competent students to assist me. When grants are approved, they lead to more discoveries, more equipment, and ultimately more opportunities to make cases for additional grants.”

Dr. Paul Egland, associate professor of biology and Augustana’s chief health professions adviser, says the ability for students to work alongside him in his lab is priceless.

“One of the things that makes Augustana unique is that students get to apply what they learn in class in a hands-on lab — they get to do experiments and test ideas. That hands-on work is what helps students learn. It cements the ideas they learn in the classroom.”

Bethany Jochim, a recent graduate of Augustana and a native of Pierre, South Dakota, is one example. At just 22 years old, Jochim recently had her fifth research article published in a national scientific journal. Titled “Velocity map imaging as a tool for gaining mechanistic insight from closed-loop control studies of molecular fragmentation,” the article detailed the findings of research Jochim conducted with Dr. Eric Wells, associate professor of physics at Augustana, and a team of researchers at Kansas State University. The article was published in Physical Review A, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Physical Society.

This fall, Jochim will begin her graduate studies at Kansas State University, where she will study for a Ph.D. in physics. “The research I’ve been part of and the articles we’ve published are a testament to how the faculty here [at Augustana] can get students involved. That’s a really unique and special opportunity,” Jochim said.

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