Shared science

North Dakota Academy of Science convenes at UND for annual meeting, supporting cross-state collaboration among students and faculty

Science Academy at UND

Students and faculty from several North Dakota University System institutions gathered at UND’s Memorial Union on April 28-29 for the 109th Annual Meeting of the North Dakota Academy of Science. Photo by Shawna Schill.

On the late Friday afternoon of April 28—when many university students were wrapping up classes and jumping into weekend plans—nearly 30 young scientists stood beside colorful poster boards in UND’s Memorial Union, eagerly explaining their research.

These posters were tagged with not only UND’s emblem, but school logos from North Dakota State, Minot State and a number of other North Dakota University System (NDUS) institutions.

The presenters—and dozens of other students and faculty from around the state—had converged for the 109th Annual Meeting of the North Dakota Academy of Science (NDAS).

“This conference includes people working in science, technology, engineering, and math – the STEM field,” said NDAS President and UND Chemistry Professor Julia Zhao. “It’s a moment to let people meet each other and build collaboration. If you read a research paper, you just read a paper. But here, you see people, so you can have a deeper conversation and ask questions.”

The two-day NDAS meeting is packed with oral presentations, opportunities for networking, an NDAS business meeting and a top-notch keynote speaker—but it was the poster session that attracted UND junior Noah Irby of Bismarck, N.D.

“It’s always good to branch out and be able to see other people from around the state, not even just within your own field, and see all of the interesting things they’re doing,” said the environmental geography and philosophy double major.

Irby spent the next hour alongside a board strewn with maps and data, sharing his research about locations within the city of Bismarck that would be not only suitable, but efficient for mixed-use developments.

“This was a fun opportunity for me because I don’t do a lot of human geography—I focus more on urban planning,” Irby said. “Presenting at a conference like this gives that practical experience of articulating what you actually did and being able to present in a way that’s professional.”

Noah Irby

UND environmental geography and philosophy junior Noah Irby stands by his research poster, ready to share his findings on the development landscape of Bismarck, N.D. Irby was one of nearly 30 presenters at the NDAS poster session on April 28. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Power of presentation

In another room of the Memorial Union, UND Medical Laboratory Science junior Danielle Germundson pointed to the slide projected behind her with confidence.

“Today I will be discussing how food sensitization alters innate behavior and brain cell dynamics in a mouse model of milk allergy,” she told the crowd filling the room, expounding to describe how her research shows a correlation between food allergies and behavioral disorders like depression or autism in children.

“If this hypothesis is proven true, then we’re able to take kids off of medications that we don’t know the long term effects of, like amphetamines. That’s very important,” Germundson explained after her presentation. “It will make an impact in people’s lives, and it will be much more cost effective for both the parents and the medical field as a whole.”

Beyond building her presentation skills, Germundson was taking advantage of this gathering of minds to talk to those outside of her typical academic circle—regional researchers in geology, chemistry, biochemistry and beyond.

“A lot of the things are translatable. You might see something here that you might be interested in or that you can use in your own project,” she said. “For example, the 3D cell modeling presentation was very interesting because that’s applicable to so many biomedical field things.”

Science Academy at UND

Some of the NDAS undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral award winners gather for a group photo at the conclusion of the Annual Meeting on April 29. (Left to right) Ashrifa Ali, Jiyan Mohammad, Danielle Germundson, Michael Storandt, Alex Buchholz, Ramnarain Ramakrishna, Janani Kumar, Ying Zhang. Photo courtesy of Dr. Julia Zhao.

Awarding passion

Germundson’s weekend experience—and the experience of many other UND student participants—was completely free to them, thanks to funding from the UND Office of the Provost. Provost Tom DiLorenzo covered 30 registration fees, which Zhao says helped boost the number of UND students who chose to get involved.

“As a research university, these are the activities that we all should be promoting. Who better to lead the effort than the Provost?” DiLorenzo said. “Students see the benefit of ‘sharing’ research findings and grow in their passion for science.”

The Provost’s Office also chipped in funding to expand the number of awards given to presenters at the end of the weekend, as well as raise the monetary amount of those prizes.

“This year, we received Provost’s Office support to increase the awards to post-doctoral scholars,” Zhao explained. “Each year we have a number of post-docs present in the conference, but they didn’t have an award—but now they are included.”

Germundson was one of three undergraduates honored for her oral presentation, receiving first place in her category. She says the combination of experiential learning she has had in the UND lab and the opportunities to present at NDAS and other conferences has been beyond her expectations.

“If you told me five years ago that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would say, ‘No, I’m not!’” she said with a broad grin. “Everything I could possibly imagine I could do, I am doing right now, which is so awesome.”

Award winners

Denison Awards – Undergraduate

1st Place – Danielle Germundson, UND Pathology

2nd Place – Alex Buchholz, Minot State Chemistry

3rd Place – Michael Storandt, UND School of Medical and Health Sciences (SMHS)

Denison Awards/NDAS UND Provost Awards – Graduate

1st Place – Joshua Kulas, UND SMHS & Jiyan Mohammad, NDSU Biological Sciences

2nd Place – Gagandeep Singh, NDSU Microbiological Sciences & Ashrifa Ali, UND SMHS

3rd Place – Adam Edwinson, NDSU Microbiological Sciences & Ramnarain Ramakrishna, NDSU Plant Sciences

NDAS UND Provost Awards – Post-doctoral

Ying Zhang, UND Chemistry

Janani Kumar, UND SMHS

Guillermo de Anda-Jáuregui, UND SMHS

Soumya Banerjee, UND Physics & Astrophysics