Students showcase science communication skills at 7th Annual Poster Exhibition

A student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences explains his research to one of the judges at the college's 2019 Undergraduate Poster Exhibition in February. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Just how small is this?” was just one of a myriad of questions Natalie Cummings, a sophomore in materials science and engineering at Penn State, had to field from competition judges and other passersby during her research presentation at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences 7th Annual Undergraduate Poster Exhibition.

Julianne Snider, assistant director of exhibitions and collections for the college’s Museum & Art Gallery, was one of 37 guest judges at the event and one of three assigned to assess Cummings’s poster presentation. Snider’s question clarifying the microscopic scale of Cummings’s research proved beneficial for all involved.

“It helped me to take a step back from my research and see it through someone else’s eyes,” said Cummings of the question and the exhibition more generally.

In the end, her research, titled “Novel Transfer Technique for Metasurfaces to the Tip of an Optical Fiber,” which she studied during an undergraduate research experience at Cornell University last summer, impressed the judges and earned her third place overall in the exhibition.

Cummings’s experience was shared by many of her peers and fellow exhibitors at the event, which consisted of 35 posters and oral presentations given by 61 students representing every class standing and the five departments in the college. Although several of the smartly dressed participants were slightly apprehensive in the hours leading up to their presentations, many were happy to have had the opportunity to communicate their scientific endeavors to a friendly and supportive audience.

“I was really nervous, but people are open to learning,” said Taylor Young, a junior majoring in energy engineering. The judges’ openness and curiosity about her research helped Young feel more confident, which was reflected in her presentation: “I wasn’t stuttering, I was going at a good pace, and it felt like a casual conversation.”

Amanda Byrd, a first-year student in earth science and policy who shared a similar sentiment, said, “After I talked to the first judge, I felt more comfortable. Instead of drilling me, the judges wanted to learn.”

Students also learned valuable lessons about communicating science through visual media in the form of research posters.

Adam Vester, a first-year student in materials science and engineering who is interested in finding creative outlets in science, was excited to hone his communication skills and focus on the visual components of his team’s research on next generation optical fiber infrastructure. 

“Old me would have written thousands of words on here,” said Vester, gesturing to his poster. He and his partner, Alex Christopher, were selected from among their peers in a first-year materials engineering seminar to present research at the exhibition.

Greg DeVoir, a Penn State alumnus and current lead meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Central Pennsylvania Office, served as a judge during the event and was impressed with the overall quality of the participants’ work.

“It’s never been more important for scientists to be able to interact and share technical concepts and ideas in a concise and engaging manner, increasingly across academic disciplines,” DeVoir said. “The exhibition gives students the opportunity to showcase their intellectual curiosities and discoveries while honing critical communication skills in a supportive environment with fellow students, faculty and alumni.”

The students said the exhibition helped them practice communication skills that will be useful whether they are planning to enter the workforce or attend graduate school. The exhibition presents a unique opportunity for students in the college because platforms for such presentations are limited, save for the university-wide competition in the spring.

Michael Billic-Gilbert, a senior majoring in geosciences, transferred to University Park from a Commonwealth Campus where he says there were few outlets for science communication. He is looking forward to a project-based career, but in the meantime, he was glad to have participated in the exhibition. Taking a step back from his poster, he expressed humble admiration, “Look what I did! I’m actually really proud of it.”

“His pride is well-deserved, as it is with all of the participants. A special congratulations to all of the winners,” said Kimberly Del Bright, Giles Writer-in-Residence for the college and organizer of the exhibition.

The winners and their presentations are listed below.

Seventh Annual Earth and Mineral Sciences Poster Exhibition Winners

First Place 

  • Morgan Frazier (senior, geosciences) — Poster title: "Crustal Thickening at the Mendocino Triple Junction"; Project adviser: Kevin Furlong

Second Place

  • Christine Tamburri (senior, geosciences) — Poster title: "Incursion of Invasive Species Following the 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens"; Project adviser: Maureen Feineman

Third Place 

  • Natalie Cummings (sophomore, materials science and engineering) — Poster title: "Novel Transfer Technique for Metasurfaces to the Tip of an Optical Fiber"; Project adviser: Gennady Shvets

Outstanding Research Potential Award (University Fellowships Office and Undergraduate Research in partnership with Phi Kappa Phi)

  • Kelly Matuszewski (first-year, materials science and engineering), Victoria Belka (first-year, materials science and engineering), Hannah Perelli (first-year, geography) — Poster title: "Biomimetic Materials for Regenerative Bone Tissue Engineering"; Project adviser: Robert Kimel

Library Research First Place Award

  • Justin Grenier (senior, energy engineering) — Poster title: "Thermodynamic Analysis of the All-Vanadium Redox Flow Battery"; Project adviser: Derek Hall

Library Research Second Place Award

  • Madison Ebersole (sophomore, materials science and engineering) — Poster title: "Effects of Au Seeds on 2D WS2"; Project advisers: Joan Redwing, Tanushree Choudhury

Student Choice Award

  • Whitney Marshall (junior, geosciences) — Poster title: "Earthquake and Tsunami Risk Analysis along the Cascadia Subduction Zone"; Project advisers: Kevin Furlong, Maureen Feineman, Tanya Furman
Last Updated March 13, 2019