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At WSU, students from 54 universities report research

From rats self-administering vaporized methamphetamine to forest management to optimizing robotic arms for medical purposes, the subjects of undergraduate research projects were all over the map Friday at Washington State University’s Summer Symposium for Undergraduate Research.

The symposium was the culminating event for 90 undergraduate students from 54 universities across the U.S. who had spent the summer at WSU focusing on science’s big questions for the present and beyond.

The opportunity – which serves as a boon for undergraduate participants and WSU researchers alike – was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to encourage research before graduate school.

Zachary Robbins, a rising senior at Portland State University, said his experience living, learning and researching on the Palouse this summer has been one of both personal and scholarly gain.

“We have all kinds of technical support and emotional support,” he said of his group, which focused on numerous aspects of the natural world and climates, ranging from the biological and economic function of the Columbia River to the future of golden eagles.

“I worked on a large-scale model program for modeling climate change and how it will affect forests,” he said.

As Washington’s forests are so vast and far-reaching, working with the program can be a challenge, but could be a help in the future.

“It can be hard to quantify,” he said, but further work can be added to the model in the future to monitor the growth, storage and harvest of trees in the state and how they react to a changing climate.

From the New College of Florida Honors College, Riley Lewis took on a project that sought a clear answer to clean air in the Spokane Valley.

“A bunch of residents have been complaining about the odor of marijuana near their homes,” he said.

The complaints, which were made to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, were the result of fumes from marijuana growing facilities in the area, and, through use of air samples and samples of odors from facility emissions and plant emissions, Lewis and his team worked to discover what caused the odor and how far the smell could potentially travel.

“The odor was caused by terpines, different organic compounds that make up the essential oils of the plants,” he said.

The team also discovered the odor has the potential to travel many miles in the 50 minutes it takes to dissipate, so residents were not exaggerating about the pungent smells entering their homes.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to use this information to create more efficient filters for the operations,” he said.

Lewis said he enjoyed his time on the Palouse and thinks it has been beneficial to him.

“I gained a lot of skills,” he said.