Event Showcases Year’s Best Undergrad Research

Chemistry major Catherine Eckert won first place in the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition for her project on separating gases at the molecular level.


UT Dallas students showed their scientific prowess at the recent Undergraduate Research Poster Competition, where they vied for the top three places and $1,000 in total prize money.

Now in its fourth year, the poster session showcases top-quality student research. Students stood near their posters, which displayed the fruition of weeks of hard work on diverse scientific research topics ranging from game theory to volcanology.  

Chemistry major Catherine Eckert won first place for her project on separating gases on the molecular level according to size. The technique she proposed requires much less energy than conventional processes.

“Using this method, we can decrease the cost of generating gases such as hydrogen,” Eckert said. “I really enjoyed the freedom to experiment and play with these molecules. This is what really excites me about doing research.”

“Undergraduate research has the potential to be a defining experience in a student’s academic career. It allows them the opportunity to explore new ideas and concepts while learning how to test them.”

Dr. Sheila Piñeres,
undergraduate education dean

Eckert received $500 in cash for her efforts.

“I was excited to be presenting my results at the poster competition, and to show so many people all the work I have been doing, but I never expected to win anything,” Eckert said. “When they announced my name as a semi-finalist, I was so thrilled.”

Her mentor on the project was Dr. Kenneth Balkus, professor of chemistry.

“I encourage all of my students to apply for the scholarship in fall,” Balkus said. “Anytime you see students receive recognition like this, it’s certainly satisfying. She worked hard and did a great job.”

Second place went to Bryan Reeves in the School of Economics, Political and Policy Sciences for his project titled, “Behavioral Incentive-Based Non-Gambling Option: Determining Financial Risk Preferences.” Reeves received $300 in prize money.

Third place went to Stuart Harrell of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Sciences for his project titled, “Relaxed Homomorphic Encryption and Applications to Information Retrieval/Filtering.” Harrell received $200 for his efforts.

The program kicks off in the fall, when the Office of the Vice President for Research calls for research proposals. This year, 46 of the students who submitted ideas were chosen to receive research funding. The number of undergraduate projects sponsored has more than doubled since the program’s inception in 2007.

“Undergraduate research has the potential to be a defining experience in a student’s academic career. It allows them the opportunity to explore new ideas and concepts while learning how to test them,” said Dr. Sheila Piñeres, dean of undergraduate education.

She added that undergraduates will also be able to publish their research in the newly launched UT Dallas Journal of Undergraduate Research, The Exley. Articles and submissions are currently being accepted for the inaugural issue in spring 2012.

“We have students who, after participating in undergraduate research, decide to pursue advanced degrees in a discipline,” Piñeres said. “Undergraduate research at UT Dallas is unique because it provides undergraduates with an opportunity that only graduate students have at many other universities.”

Luegun Huang explains her idea to use bioinformatics to assess the risk of various types of influenza. She was one of 46 undergraduates chosen for the Undergraduate Research Scholar Awards program.


Nistha Jajal discusses her work with Dr. Bert Moore, dean of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Her project was titled “Investigation of Pupillary Responses to Threatening and Non-threatening Visual Stimuli.”


Judging the Research Contest

Raytheon and Ericsson made financial contributions towards the cash awards and assisted in the contest judging.  The complete list of judges:

David Struble, Technical Leader, Raytheon Network Centric Systems.Dr. David Thomas, Executive Vice President for Research & Development, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.Dr. Kamini Dunne, Associate Principal Engineer/Design & Development, PepsiCo Inc.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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