Student Research on Virtual Display

Nov 06, 2020

The Fall Creative Works and Research Event at Cal U is set for Nov. 16-20.

  • - 'Muerte por Chocolate,' or 'Death by Chocolate,' by Yolanda Garcia tells a visual narrative about the history and culture of chocolate.

  • - A large cacao blossom and the cacao pod is a work-in-progress for Yolanda Garcia.

It’s research, sure, but the topic was something that Yolanda Garcia could sink her teeth into. 

The non-traditional student, who is studying studio arts with a minor in Spanish, tapped into her Mexican heritage for a research project on chocolate — the history of its use among Aztecs and Mayans in Mexico and its spread to Europe. 

She will present her work at Cal U’s annual Fall Creative Works and Research Event, along with other students from Cal U and the honors programs at Slippery Rock, Lock Haven, Kutztown and Edinboro universities. 

The five-day event, Nov. 16-20, will be held virtually this year. Undergraduate students will produce a 5- to 10-minute video about their research or creative work that will be posted online. From 11 a.m-12:30 p.m. Nov. 17, a webinar will feature live presentations by selected students. 

“The aim is to give the students experience of what a conference is like,” said Dr. Mark Tebbitt, a professor in the Department of Biology, Geology and Environmental Sciences and the lead organizer of the online conference. 

“We take them through the whole experience of submitting an abstract in order to register their intent to present, as well as presenting their work and, if they choose, having it judged by professionals. This gives them valuable experience and is something they will put on their resumes when they graduate.” 

Garcia’s presentation will include her mixed-media work, including a drawing that illustrates the botanical structure and pollination of the cacao plant, inspired by art professor Maggy Aston’s natural science drawing class. 

Garcia’s work also, literally, includes chocolate. She used cacao powder on her drawing paper. 

“The piece shows the indigenous roots of chocolate, the rituals associated with it, and how the Europeans consumed it as a beverage and added sugar to it — only the wealthy had access to it,” Garcia said. 

"They had special pots for it, so I've included a chocolate pot. I also show how chocolate is used today, where it's in many things." 

The Fall Creative Works and Research Event also will include Chloe Faris’ investigation of the role of bacteria in mitigating acid mine drainage. 

Faris, a biology major with a minor in chemistry, studied samples taken from a mine drainage site and found the presence of bacteria with “pumps” — specific genes that allow the bacteria to grow in the presence of copper and zinc. 

Dr. Michelle Valkanas led the class research project, incorporating her expertise in passive remediation systems built to treat abandoned mine drainage. She specifically focuses on the impacts microbial communities have on passive systems. 

“Further experimentation would be to see how far the concentrations could go and still have bacteria grow. I also could test how bacteria could work as a group to study the effects on bioremediation.” 

She plans further investigation during the spring semester and credits the project with sparking an interest in the field of microbiology. 

“It got me thinking about wanting to ultimately work in a lab, maybe as a lab manager. I’m looking at some internship opportunities to get my foot in the door after graduation in May.” 

Tebbitt commended students for completing their projects this year. 

“It’s harder to do research remotely, but that hasn’t stopped our students,” he said. “They’ve done a variety of projects, and there are many programs represented. 

“It gives them practical experience for a career they may choose in the future, and it is definitely an item they can include on their resumes.”