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Undergrads present research findings at 10th annual Scholarship Symposium

Engineering student William Duncan explains his group's research on coal-powered rocket mass heaters during the 2013 Scholarship Symposium. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
Engineering student William Duncan explains his group's research on coal-powered rocket mass heaters during the 2013 Scholarship Symposium. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.May 1, 2013 – About 200 students presented their research findings April 30 as part of Union University’s 10th annual Scholarship Symposium.

“In a lot of universities, the scholarship that we focus on is faculty scholarship,” said Hunter Baker, Union’s dean of instruction who oversees the program. “Here, for the last 10 years, we’ve been putting an emphasis on undergraduate scholarship.

“It’s very important to have faculty doing research,” Baker continued. “I think it makes them better teachers. But there’s been an increasing realization that we need to pass those skills on to students – that really part of giving them the most value for their tuition dollar is to actually engage them in the work of research.”

Samantha Howard, a senior from Hernando, Miss., worked with Sally Henrie, professor of chemistry, to produce a lab manual that is based on “green” chemistry, meaning chemistry that is safer. Many schools are concerned about health hazards and disposal costs that come with typical laboratory experiments.

“Everything we use can be poured down the drain,” Howard said. “It was just trial and error in the lab – mixing stuff up, testing stuff, seeing if it works. We finally came up with a few experiments that worked and met all the criteria for the lab manual.”

Andrew Tan, a sophomore from Ipoh, Malaysia, worked with 11 other students to design a coal-powered rocket mass heater for use in public schools in a North African nation where Union’s engineering department has helped on other projects.

“They’re using wood as the fuel, but (the country) is undergoing a vast deforestation, and the government is banning using wood as fuel,” Tan said. “So they provide cheap coal to schools, and we have to redesign this rocket mass heater to burn coal instead of wood.”

Most schools in the North African country currently use coal-powered heaters that are inefficient and unsafe, because burning the coal fills the room with poisonous smoke. Teachers open windows to vent the smoke, allowing heat to escape.

A Union team that traveled to the country in 2012 helped install a rocket mass heater that burns wood efficiently, and the objective for this project was to continue modifying the design to improve the heater’s performance.

Other students participated in the symposium from a variety of academic disciplines, including art, biology, business, computer science, digital media studies, English, nursing, pharmacy, physics, social work and theology and missions. Some students produced posters that they displayed in the Carl Grant Events Center, while others made brief presentations in classrooms all across campus.

A description of each of the presentations is available at www.uu.edu/events/uuss.

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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