20th Research on Capitol Hill Highlights Undergrad Research from Utah's Research Universities

Utah State University undergraduate researchers from all eight colleges will join a group from the University of Utah on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the Utah State Capitol to present their original research to legislators. 

Research on Capitol Hill is an annual celebration of undergraduate research and creative work from the two research universities in Utah: Utah State University and the University of Utah.

For the event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., all 56 students will have simple posters summarizing their research on display in the rotunda and will be on hand to discuss their projects and their own experiences with research.

“One of the most impactful ways a person can learn something is simply by doing it,” said Alexa Sand, associate vice president for research at USU. “For our students, undergraduate research allows that opportunity—to make new discoveries, to create something, to put classroom models to the test.”

This will be the 20th Research on Capitol Hill, an event pioneered in 2001 by USU's Joyce Kinkead and the University of Utah's John Francis, who were serving their respective institutions as vice provost at the time. 

"Our goal in 2001 was to demonstrate how a research university can have a qualitative impact on an undergraduate's education. We wanted to show how students were getting their hands-on research in a compelling, visual way." said Kinkead.

One USU student researcher, Rachel Sagers, exhibits this through her research on the effects of air pollution in Cache Valley during the winter months. 

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Sagers and her research partners collected air particles during inversion season and tested them on human lung cells. They found that Cache Valley air can damage human DNA and increase the risk of cancer.

“Rachel’s work, like that of so many of our other researchers, is impacting Utah, from small communities to large cities,” said Sand. “Her research can be applied outside of our valley and even our state.”

Another USU student, Makenzie Breitenbach Holmes, also has focused on Utah’s air quality. She conducts her research with the Bingham Research Center at the USU Unitah Basin campus and will present her research on the impacts of oil and gas on the ozone in the Uintah Basin, with immediate implications for Utah policy.

Holmes’ research is helping to pinpoint the sources of regional ozone by collecting and analyzing air samples from 14 remote measurement stations in the basin. She found high levels of alkenes, which are key to ozone production, near gas-fueled pump-jack engines used in oil operations. Understanding these sources will help companies and regulators better understand where to focus their emission-reduction efforts in the future.  

“Research on Capitol Hill is an exciting opportunity to share the important, original innovations and discoveries by undergraduate students at USU,” said Lisa Berreau, interim vice president for research at USU. “The institution's strong commitment to undergraduate research provides students a hands-on learning experience and exposure to the interaction between research institutions and government. Presenters participate in and create direct and meaningful recommendations for our policy makers and communities.”

Research on Capitol Hill is modeled after a national event, Posters on the Hill, which takes place in April at the U.S. Capitol and will feature two Utah State researchers, Laurana Wheeler Roderer and Kirsten Barker from the Caine College of the Arts. Wheeler Roderer and Barker will first present their research on artistic collaboration as a model for addressing the climate crisis to Utah state legislators at Research on Capitol Hill before they head to Washington, D.C.

Utah State University’s Office of Research invites anyone in the Salt Lake area on Tuesday, Feb. 18 to stop by the Capitol and check out the students and their research.
 

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