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Biology major performs EXCEL research with Chun Wai Liew, associate professor and head of computer science

Marquis Scholar and biology major Megan Cummins ’09 (Yardley, Pa.) recently published her work with Chun Wai Liew, associate professor and head of computer science, and Robert Root, associate professor and associate head of mathematics.

The article, titled “Using Artificial Organisms to Study the Evolution of Backbones in Fish,” was published in April at the First Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Symposium on Artificial Life in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The IEEE, a non-profit organization, is the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology.

Cummins began working with Liew on an independent study computer science course, and he then invited her to do summer EXCEL Scholars research with him. She’s been involved with the project ever since.

“The project involves biology, math, computer science, and even physics,” says Cummins. “I’m really interested in interdisciplinary work in these areas, so this is a fantastic introduction to this kind of research.”

Through her work with Liew, Cummins had the opportunity to experience research beyond a classroom or laboratory setting.

“Professor Liew doesn’t hold your hand through the work, but he does point you in the right direction,” says Cummins. “I’ve had to learn to think more independently and to ask the right questions. I also had to learn how to work in an environment with fewer concrete deadlines and without any final grades.”

While this research experience took some getting used to, Cummins had the opportunity to not only work on the research, but to create and present a poster at the Society for Integrated and Comparative Biology conference in January and to coauthor the recently published paper.

“I got to observe the work that goes into compiling a scholarly paper, and I have a better understanding of what is really important in presenting your work and how to get that across in writing,” she explains. “This summer I’m working on another article about our most current results. This time I’m writing a good portion of the article, and I hope to learn a lot from it.”

Cummins was excited to learn the article would be published.

“It’s always good to see something you’ve worked on recognized,” she says. “I never thought that I’d be a coauthor on a scholarly paper this early on in my academic experience.”

Cummins also believes that Lafayette provides a positive environment for undergraduate research.

“It’s important for Lafayette to offer opportunities like this for several reasons,” she says. “First of all, students considering careers in research need to experience it as early as possible to aid in graduate school or career decisions. Also, I’ve found that there’s a steep learning curve for this kind of work, so an early start is advantageous.”

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Cummins receive a special academic scholarship and distinctive educational experiences and benefits. This includes a three-week, Lafayette-funded course abroad or in the United States during January’s interim session between semesters or the summer break. Marquis Scholars also participate in mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty and cultural activities in major cities and on campus.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Twenty-one students have been accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Computer Science, Mathematics, Student Profiles, Students
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