by Bryan Lindenberger

More than 200 student and faculty researchers from across Georgia attended the 2018 annual meeting of the Georgia Academy of Science at the University of West Georgia earlier this month.

Briana Lewis-Marshall looking at a poster presentation
Briana Lewis-Marshall

Hosting the event combined the efforts of three UWG colleges: the College of Science and Mathematics, the College of Education, and the College of Arts and Humanities, along with the Georgia Academy of Science. Oral presentations and poster sessions were held at the Education Complex on the UWG campus in Carrollton.

Dr. Neal Chesnut, associate professor of physics at UWG and vice president for the Georgia Academy of Science, served as chair of the local arrangements committee. He discussed the importance of this large event for students, faculty and community alike.

“What’s really interesting is that the academy is a compilation of different disciplines,” Chesnut said. “It provides interaction between the disciplines, reaching across science, education, and the arts and humanities.”

Chesnut also said the annual meeting of the academy serves to connect colleges and universities across the state with their colleagues, where he feels connections have the opportunity to be strengthened. He pointed out that the most important aspect of the annual event is the opportunity it offers students.

“It provides undergraduates and graduate students a platform to present their research,” he said, noting the opportunity is unique compared to many other conventions. “With the Georgia Academy of Science, students present to a varied audience of people across disciplines, which gives them valuable practice and confidence.”

Oral presentations of research papers and poster presentations ran throughout the day April 14, spanning physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering and biology.

Dr. A.G. Unil Perera, a regent’s professor of physics at Georgia State University, delivered the keynote speech. In it, he outlined his recently published research on the use of infrared light to detect colitis and two forms of cancer in blood samples.

By using a process called spectroscopy rather than more uncomfortable and costly procedures, Perera and his team believe early screenings, and therefore early detection, will increase. This technology could potentially further develop into noninvasive, personalized diagnostic tools.

Meanwhile, students provided a breadth of talent from around the state with their own researched poster presentations.

UWG’s own Briana Lewis-Marshall, a junior physics major, outlined her deep analysis of planetary nebula for detection of the elements bromine, rubidium and xenon. The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) scholar said presenting her research helps her in multiple ways.

“Presenting gives me a lot of experience since I want to move onto graduate school,” said Lewis-Marshall, whose mentor is Dr. Nicholas Sterling in the Department of Physics. “Research provides me the opportunity to learn the broad spectrum of the astronomy field so I can home in on what I want to do.”

Katelyn Yeakley, a University of North Georgia junior majoring in biology, agreed, saying research drove her into her major. Together, she and Madeleine Wagner snorkeled in Belize to study marine worms known commonly as Christmas tree worms to learn about their preferences of coral habitat.

“You get to feel the passion of other people, and it provides a great perspective on science in general,” Yeakley said.

Marque’l Gould, a Valdosta State senior majoring in biology, studied the effects of Hurricane Irma on plankton found in Lake Louise approximately 15 miles south of Valdosta.

Georgia State University's Dr. A.G. Unil Perera giving the keynote speech
Dr. A.G. Unil Perera

“Presenting here gives me the opportunity to network and meet a lot of people with my same interests,” Gould said. “There is a close-knit group of people, and it’s great to come here and see what other people in my field are doing.”

Chesnut, while acknowledging the event’s immediate, positive effect on the Carrollton economy, sees an even deeper contribution to UWG and therefore, the community. For instance, campus tours and encouraging travelers to take advantage of visiting local recreational venues or the historic downtown area creates lasting impressions of both the university and city.

Perhaps most importantly, the Georgia Academy of Science’s annual event provides students with real world experience in science. As Chesnut noted, enticing more students to become active in science has been a national education imperative for quite some time.

“We know that getting students involved in research works,” Chesnut said. “They start to get a hands-on feel for how they can actually use this. Presenting is the next step to opening up their world and a way to get young people excited about science.”

Posted on April 18, 2018