Amanda Danno (right), of Lake Geneva, presents her undergraduate research project at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on March 16. (Tom Ganser photo)

By Tom Ganser


Madeline Rausch and Amanda Danno, 2013 and 2014 graduates of Badger High School, respectively, were among 148 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students who participated in the 22nd annual Undergraduate Research Day in the Hamilton Room of the James R. Connor University Center.

The research and creativity projects presented during the event covered areas including the physical, biological and social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science and the performing and fine arts.

Some topics appeared to be relatively easy for a non-expert to understand, such as “Evaluating ebay’s Future in the Online Marketplace,” whereas others seemed to be a bit more challenging for the passersby, like “Exploring Modular Arithmetic and Stochasticity to Measure Latent Variable.”

Rausch is a senior majoring in political science. She teamed with fellow student Noah Rusch with Professor Jolly Emrey as their mentor, for a research project titled “Investigatory Stops and Reasonable Suspicion Throughout the United States.” People stopped in an investigatory stop must identify themselves or risk facing penalties.

The project was created to identify a difference, if any, in investigatory stops in the 24 states with stop-and-identify laws and those without.

The initial results of the study indicate that a person in a stop-and-identify state can be arrested for obstruction if he or she does not comply, while a person in a state without the law would generally not be arrested.

Danno is a junior majoring in biological sciences. The goal of her research project was to create a kit that teaches high school and introductory-level college students about reporter genes that are commonly used in genetics and molecular biology as a way for scientists to mark a specific gene.

To make this more attainable for students, Danno, working under the guidance of her mentor, Professor Kirsten Crossgrove, connected the project with something with which students are familiar – heavy metal contaminants in water.

Danno focused the experiment on nematodes (worms) that had been exposed to the heavy metal copper sulfate. Using two common reporter genes, bioluminescence (when an organism produces light) and fluorescence (when an organism emits light under ultraviolet light), Danno was able to determine the relative health of nematodes exposed to different concentrations of copper sulfate.

Danno also serves as the UW-W student representative for the WiSys Ambassador Program sponsored by the WiSys Technology Foundation.

WiSys Ambassadors receive training in intellectual property as well as the technology transfer process and learn how to access resources offered by WiSys and other campus organizations designed to support technology development and entrepreneurial activity. The ambassadors are also are involved in organizing seminars, hosting educational workshops and serving as a resource for their respective departments and campus.

The UW-W Undergraduate Research Program, as described on the program’s website at, aims to support “inquiry-driven research scholarship and creative activity.

“The program is an advocate for expanded experiential learning that enhances engagement in undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activity including faculty-mentored research and curriculum-based projects. Our goal is to create opportunities for inclusive participation.”

In addition to presenting the results of research projects and creative enterprises at the Undergraduate Research Day, many students also present their projects at other meetings including the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at the University of Memphis from April 6 to 8, the 16th annual University of Wisconsin Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on April 21 and meetings and conferences for academic and professional organizations.

Featured speaker Thomas Rios, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, suggested that undergraduate research combined “learning about” (content mastery) and “learning to be … the emotional, the spiritual, all the aspects that make us a human being (including) curiosity, self-confidence and pride.

In addressing the gathering at the end of the day, Susan Elrod, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, reflected on her own involvement in two research projects as an undergraduate.

“What we learn in our classrooms sometimes seems easy because it’s already done,” Elrod said. “But the process of actually discovering that is a lot more difficult and challenging. There’s so much to learn in that process.

“This topic of undergraduate research is so important to us here at the university, but it’s also important nationally.”

Elrod said the practices associated with undergraduate research at UW-W “help students stay in school and graduate at higher rates.”


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