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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown Undergraduates Push Frontiers of Knowledge at Annual Research Conference

PALLAVI BOMMAREDDY/THE HOYA | The 21st annual Georgetown University Undergraduate Research Conference featured posters and oral presentations from 94 GU student researchers, with poster topics ranging from tumor biology to the social determinants of health.

The Georgetown University Undergraduate Research Conference showcased student research in science and health-related fields April 17, offering participants the chance to talk about their work with peers and faculty members. 

The day-long conference, which the Georgetown University School of Health hosted, invited 94 Georgetown undergraduates to create a poster explaining their research and deliver short, informal research presentations to conference attendees. This year, Makenzie Thomas (SOH ’24) and Nick Cohen (SOH ’25) co-chaired the conference’s planning committee with support from faculty advisors Jan LaRocque and Alex Theos, associate professors of human science, and Carol Hom, program manager of the department of human science. 

Roma Dhingra (CAS ’24), a student presenter who has participated in the conference for three years, said that the conference promotes interdisciplinary appreciation and collaboration by bringing together researchers from various scientific disciplines. 

“The conference, for me, is a place where, for one and a half hours, people from so many different backgrounds — from wet lab backgrounds, psychology backgrounds, medical backgrounds — will have conversations with me about my research,” Dhingra told The Hoya. “It’s an exchange where we’re able to give each other advice from our own backgrounds.”

Dhingra said explaining her research to other people helped her find new angles from which to probe her primary research questions, which involve studying the link between how people age biologically and the discrimination they face throughout their lives. 

“I’ll take away something new for my own research because these conversations will help me look at my research from a new perspective,” Dhingra said. 

While Dhingra and others presented in one of two hour-and-a-half student poster sessions, the event also featured a keynote address from Dr. Sharon Savage, director of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) clinical genetics branch and clinical director of NCI’s division of cancer epidemiology and genetics. The day concluded with a handful of student oral presentations and an awards ceremony for presenters.

While presenting at the first student poster session, Anqi Feng (CAS ’24), a student researcher at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that engaging others in her research through presenting her poster was a gratifying experience, personally and professionally. 

“I think it’s definitely rewarding to see your own work being appreciated by others,” Feng told The Hoya. “I feel like the more questions people ask me about my research, the more I know they’re interested in it. I love to talk about it and brainstorm with people about potential experiments we can do in the future.”

Similar to Dhingra, one of Feng’s favorite parts of the conference was getting input on her research from other scientists. Feng studies membraneless organelles — small blobs of protein and RNA with specialized roles in cells — and is interested in using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to see how nuclear speckles, a type of membraneless organelle, help cells organize their DNA. 

Feng said that she found new inspiration for her project while talking with one of the conference’s judges, a professional researcher who works with the same gene editing technology that Feng uses to explore the role of nuclear speckles. 

“One of the judges that came over was an expert in CRISPR, so after talking to her, I knew which direction I’m probably going to go next, which was a total surprise,” Feng said. 

The conference also helped students hone professional skills, like oral presentation and making a scientific poster, according to Baiyue Zhao (CAS ’24), a student researcher in the lab of Georgetown chemistry professor K. Travis Holman.

“This is my first conference, so I think it’s a great way to practice presenting my research to other people and also learn a little bit about what other people are studying,” Zhao told The Hoya. 

Zhao’s research seeks to use a special compound to increase the octane number, or measure of fuel stability, of gasoline. Since branched hydrocarbon molecules, rather than linear molecules, create higher octane, better quality fuels, Zhao tested the compound’s ability to separate out gasoline’s linear hydrocarbons from its branched hydrocarbons. 

Zhao said that preparing for the conference challenged him to distill months of chemistry experiments into a simple, digestible poster. 

“We did a lot of experimental work, but we only have this one panel for this student poster, so it really makes you think about how to organize the data and see what are the most important parts of the introduction and the data,” Zhao said. 

Feng said she hopes that in the future, the conference will continue to make scientific research more accessible at Georgetown, encouraging younger undergraduates to get involved in on-campus laboratories and meet principal investigators (PIs). 

“If you’re a younger student who’s looking for a lab to join, this might be an opportunity for you to reach out to PIs based on the poster, if you’re interested,” Feng said. “I’m a senior now, but I wish that when I was a freshman, I had more of those opportunities.”

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About the Contributor
Audrey Twyford
Audrey Twyford, Senior Science Editor
Audrey Twyford is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences from Waterford, Va., studying biology of global health. She loves ballet and one time danced at the Kennedy Center. [email protected]
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