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Students show off research to legislators

BY MAGGIE PETERS | MARCH 10, 2009 7:27 AM

After nine weeks in Africa and hundreds of hours spent compiling research, UI senior Amanda Irish was finally able to showcase her work Monday in Des Moines.

Irish was one of 20 UI students selected to attend “Research in the Capitol,” an event that brought together outstanding undergraduate research projects completed by students from the UI, University of Northern Iowa, and Iowa State University.

“I could not even quantify the amount of work that has gone into this project,” said Irish, 24. “It’s been my blood, sweat, and tears, and I really appreciated the opportunity to present it.”

One of the main goals of “Research in the Capitol” is to get Iowa senators, representatives, and state Board of Regents members to see the research projects and their potential implications for Iowa.

“Our attempts to publicize the event to state legislators were a success,” UI undergraduate research specialist Katie Wildman said. “It was great because almost every student got the chance to talk to a senator or representative from her or his district.”

UI senior Jess Smith’s findings attracted Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville.

The 23-year-old’s project, “Fragrance Compounds as Tracers of Sewage Sludge in Cedar Rapids Floodwaters,” focused on the origin of sediments deposited by the summer’s floods and the potentially harmful sewage in the sediment.

“Jacoby was very interested in what this research means and what health issues it might include,” said Smith, an environmental engineering and studio-arts major.

Irish also had the opportunity to speak with legislators about her project, “The Agricultural Workers’ Role in Pandemic Avian Influenza Spread.”

She said her work — which involved nine weeks of studying avian bird flu in Nigeria — could have direct implications for legislation related to Iowa’s epidemic planning, and she would like to see political action come from it.

Aside from displaying their work for lawmakers, UI students had the opportunity to collaborate with undergraduate researchers from the other two regent universities.

“It was really rewarding to be able to correspond and share what your research means,” Smith said. “And it was nice to see what other students are doing and researching.”

The number of applicants who applied to attend “Research in the Capitol” this year was double that of 2008, Wildman said. She and Robert Kirby, the director of the program, traveled with the students to Des Moines on Monday to represent the UI.

And the entire process, beginning well over a year ago for some, was worth the effort.

“Every step of the way has been so new,” Irish said. “I’ve learned more from doing this research than anything I’ve learned in a classroom.”


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