What I Did This Summer: First-Year Research Experience

From mercury levels to insect metabolism, First-Year Research Experience (FYRE) students talk up summer.
Posted on August 30th, 2016 by

Each year, Gustavus Adolphus College’s First-Year Research Experience (FYRE) pairs talented rising sophomores with hands-on opportunities in the natural sciences and mathematics. After a competitive selection process, the students work closely with faculty members and older student researchers on projects within their professor’s area of expertise. Over the course of the 10-week summer experience, the students develop personal relationships with faculty and other researchers, complete a comprehensive lab or field experience, and build a strong foundation for continued research that often leads to graduate school.

Below, four FYRE students explain their summer experience in their own words…

Rachel Lund '19

Rachel Lund ’19

Rachel Lund | Investigating Mercury Levels in Minnesota Rivers | Professor Jeff Jeremiason

At the beginning of the summer I felt completely lost – everyone I was working with was older than me and had taken more chemistry classes than me. On my third day, we did field work. I was up north in the mud, in the middle of a bog, and it was a lot of fun to see the hands-on side of the science.

After the first couple weeks I felt more confident. I still asked lots of questions, but I understood the lab procedure and how to load and run the Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS). Having this experience has made me much more confident not just in the lab but as a student and a person. You can’t just sit back and say “I don’t know what to do so I give up.” You have to keep pushing forward and keep asking questions. After doing research all summer, I know that chemistry is definitely what I want to do.

Tyler Brau | Characterization of a New Injection Valve Technology for Two-Dimensional Liquid Chromatography | Professor Dwight Stoll

Tyler Brau '19

Tyler Brau ’19

When I first toured Gustavus, professor Steve Mellema told me about the program and that first-year students could actually do hands-on research. Fast forward a year and I decided to apply. One of the professors I talked to was Dwight Stoll, whose project focuses on chemistry but has a physics component. Dwight has this really interesting pedigree – he’s one of the best in the field of chromatography. He approached me about doing research with him.

When you start, you make a lot of silly little mistakes. Ironing those out is the first part of learning research. You don’t come up with your own experiments because this is the first year. You learn about how the instrument works and how to run things on your own without constant guidance.

Research isn’t cut and dry. It isn’t clean. The FYRE program has cut through my allusions about how science is done and reinforced my desire to be a researcher. This sets the foundation for the rest of my life as a scientist. I wish more people could do the FYRE program.

Alyssa Welle | Examining the Effects of Rapid-Cold Hardening (RCH) on the Metabolic Activity of Insects | Professor Yuta Kawarasaki

Alyssa Welle

Alyssa Welle ’19

Professor Yuta Kawarasaki told me about the FYRE program last December, but cautioned me about how selective and competitive it is. I applied, wrote a few essays, and after an interview with some professors I was paired with Yuta for the summer along with a returning student.

When I first started dissecting flesh flies this summer, it was a mess. But as I progressed, being repetitive and learning different techniques really helped. My confidence in being able to do the hands-on work has really grown. Now I still need to ask for help and guidance, but I’m able to make my own judgements on what temperature to test the flies at and what section of the midgut to use after the dissection. After exposing the flies to the desired temperature, I look at the midgut under a fluorescent microscope to gather data.

I wasn’t really sure how I would do or how I’d like being in a lab eight hours a day, five days a week. I’ve found I really like the problem solving and step-by-step nature of the research. I still want to go into pharmacy work, but I really enjoy the research side of things.

Ben Rorem | Characterizing a New Wind Delivery System | Professor Chuck Niederriter

Ben Rorem '19

Ben Rorem ’19

The FYRE program is one of the things that made me decide on Gustavus. I was still looking at other schools, but learning about the research opportunities helped me choose to go to college here.

This summer, we began building a wind delivery system that will increase natural wind speed and allow a small turbine to generate more power than you’d expect from the environment. If we can find a way to someday generate as much power from smaller turbines within these systems as large turbines seen at wind farms, we will save money on construction and maintenance.

The biggest thing I learned is that research is just solving one problem after another. When we came across a new challenge we’d look at it and consider many different ways to approach it. Then we’d get prepared for the next problem to come after that.

The research I did really allowed me to get close to my adviser, Chuck, and my co-researcher, Rochelle. I also got to know a lot of professors and other students as a part of the FYRE program and have built a great support system. During the rest of my time at Gustavus, I hope that the skills I’ve gained this summer will help me in classes and research later on.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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