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College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

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Explore, Experiment, Discover

 Professor Martinez pencil research lab

Student-faculty research is exploding in the College of Science & Mathematics. This summer, almost 200 students and their faculty mentors investigated a wide range of innovative subjects, from new anti-malaria drugs to liquid crystals, from data recovery algorithms to the mating success of the Cuban freshwater fish Girardinus metallicus. They built computer clusters and telescopes, and traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Geneva, Switzerland.

Most importantly, they learned the skills they will need to be professional scientists and mathematicians; teachers who will inspire the next generation to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and future leaders in medicine or industry.

“Science education today is all about teaching students how to actually be scientists,” said Emily Taylor, a biology professor who runs multiple research projects with students. “There's no better way to embrace Cal Poly's Learn by Doing motto than for students to get their hands — or gloves — dirty doing research alongside our faculty.”

Mason Dubois got his first taste of fieldwork this summer, investigating the thermal biology of western fence lizards in the southern Sierras with Taylor. “This was a unique experience for me,” Dubois said. “As a student, I was part of this study from day one: designing the experiment, creating our hypothesis, and then going to the field to collect data to test our hypothesis.”

These student-faculty research projects can have real-world impact. Chemistry professor Andres Martinez, three faculty collaborators, and 11 students developed a pencil that health care providers could use to easily and inexpensively test for diseases such as HIV. Users would simply color inside the wax lines on a piece of chromatography paper and add a drop of blood or urine. If the paper changes color, the disease is present. The technique, which has been submitted for a patent, is well-suited for use in developing countries that often lack both funding and facilities.

Female student works in laboratory
A Cal Poly student conducts research inside on of the
laboratories in the Baker Center over the summer of 2015.
Photo // Tenney Rizzo
 

“Because we wanted to make the reagent pencils available to people in resource-limited settings, I received a lesson in practicality,” said Tyler Sisley, who worked in Martinez’s lab over the summer. “I had to look at safety data and costs to determine whether or not I should pursue certain experiments based on their affordability, environmental contamination and safety. These skills will definitely benefit me later on in industry or research.”

“Students start working independently very early on,” Martinez said. “They make their own mistakes and learn from them. They also really appreciate having a product at the end of the day. They can see it. They can touch it. It’s easy to see how it can be used in the real world.”

Students, mentors look through at telescope from an outdoor deck
Students and faculty mentors look through a telescope at the
Orion Observatory near Santa Margarita Lake.
Photo // Tenney Rizzo
 

As part of the research process, students also present their work at professional conferences and co-author peer-reviewed papers. By communicating their results to the scientific community, they not only gain a deeper understanding of what they’ve accomplished but also gain confidence and build a network of professional connections.

A student uses a syringe while conducting research in a lab
Students received hands-on research experience 
in Cal Poly laboratories over the summer.
Photo // Tenney Rizzo
 

Vibrant research continues throughout the year, but the available facilities are more limited when classes are in session. With additional space, more research opportunities would be available to students.

The College of Science & Mathematics has the opportunity to partner with the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Science on a new research and teaching building that would include 15,000 square feet of dedicated research space. Though a generous lead donor has stepped forward, the college still needs to raise $3–5 million to make the building a reality.

“One of the things that makes Cal Poly special is that our faculty members focus on providing research opportunities for students,” said Dean Phil Bailey. “This building is critical to the growth of our student-faculty research program.

Construction is slated to begin in 2018, and students and faculty will begin moving in during 2020.

“We have an excellent student-faculty research program,” Bailey said. “This building will help establish Cal Poly as a leader in undergraduate research.”

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