UNLV undergrads strut their scientific stuff

UNLV Research Forum 3/11/2016. A professional event for undergraduate students to present their visual, performing arts, or scholarly research projects. (Jeff Gillan/KSNV)

Perhaps this was on your mind this morning when you were getting ready for work: Pressure-induced Tetrahedral to Orthombic Phase Transition in MgF2.

Or maybe not.

But don't worry. I have the translation from UNLV Junior Sally Lee.

"We basically study magnesium chloride under extreme pressure," she told me Friday. "If you could subject materials into really high pressures and perhaps create a new material, then you could have your next new cell phone LED screen, or could have some new material for refrigerators or the next big thing," she explained.

I found Lee Friday at the UNLV Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, an event showcasing dozens of research projects undertaken by some of the school's best-and-brightest.

Most if it was over-my-head. The projects ran the gamut, from the highly technical (Dysregulation of DNA Methyltransferase (DNMT) 1 and DNMT-3 in Oral Cancers) to the, for this layman, actually understandable (Water Crisis, Water War).

Water, I could get my head around. So, too, has UNLV Senior Benjamin Martin. He and his team looked at the rate of water consumption in the Valley and how long we'd have until we run out.

"If current water use continues to rise as it is now, we're going to run out of the water by 2070," he said.

That was food for thought. Good for everyone food was served: lunch kept these hungry IQ's talking and discussing through the afternoon.

"Our undergraduates get a really unique experience," says Liam Frink, the Director of UNLV's Office of Undergraduate Research. "I went to the University of Wisconsin, and when I got in a lab I literally just sorted shells. That's what I did," he said.

Not here, where Frink explains undergrads get valuable hands-on, and scientifically meaningful experience. Case in point: current work being done at UNLV under Dr. Martin Schiller on HIV. "They may cure HIV within six to seven years. That's the goal," Frink said. "Most of the people who work in his lab are undergraduates."

UNLV is making a major push to step-up its research game, with plans to become what's known as a "Tier One" research institution. The school has set out initiatives to attract top research talent and to embark on research that will have national impact.

Which gets us back to the UNLV Student Union, the scene for today's Research Forum. All those young minds will pay dividends.

"Aa lot of the funding structure now that's coming out is emphasizing undergraduate research," says UNLV's Frink.

But more than money, it's important for the nation, says Dr. Corby Hovis, who was here speaking today from the National Science Foundation. "We need science and engineering to keep us on top of the world. Part of the founding of my agency was based on that," he said.

"If you look at many of the pioneering papers that result from NSF research, you'll find undergraduate authors on those papers, and some of those have been great discoveries that have won Nobel prizes," Hovis continued.

Which, once again, takes us back to a ballroom at the Student Union, crowded with young minds explaining their work.

Perhaps, in there, is a nugget for a Nobel, done by an Einstein yet-to-be-discovered.

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