Undergraduate Exhibition on April 7 showcases academic achievements

University Park, Pa. — When Alyssia Miller stepped on to Penn State’s University Park campus last August for her freshman year, she figured that she’d eventually get connected with some type of research project but there wasn’t any rush.

Fast forward to April, and with just weeks to go before the end of her first year, Miller finds herself presenting research on a portable device that its developers hope may be used to detect explosives being carried onto military outposts overseas or smuggled into airports.

“I knew I wanted to do research,” said Miller, who is double majoring in the biology and chemistry forensic science programs in the Eberly College of Science. “I just didn’t know I was going to pick it up the first semester but I think I’m ready. I like fast-paced projects, and this just fits right in.”

Miller is one of 125 students participating Wednesday in Penn State’s annual Undergraduate Exhibition, an event that showcases research and creative endeavors from across the University. This year’s exhibition features 93 poster sessions highlighting research endeavors in the arts and humanities, engineering, health and life sciences, physical sciences, public scholarship, and social and behavioral sciences. There are seven entries that will take to the stage for the performance session. The poster sessions will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the HUB-Robeson Center while the performances will be seen and judged from noon to 2 p.m. in Esber Recital Hall. The day ends with the awards ceremony at 3:30 p.m. in the HUB-Robeson Center. Monetary prizes are awarded to the top entries in each category along with the Gerard A. Hauser Award given to the best overall entry, the Phi Kappa Phi Awards for Excellence for Juniors, and the University Libraries Award for Information Literacy.

“The students do incredible work,” said Mary Beth Crowe, assistant vice president and assistant dean for Undergraduate Education. “The exhibition is a chance for Penn State to celebrate and recognize the contributions that undergraduates make to research and creative work. For the students, it’s a chance to communicate the importance of their work.”

Often, students participating in the exhibition are seniors preparing for graduation with the event capping years of academic work.

Tony Arnold, a senior Schreyer Honors College Scholar majoring in philosophy in the College of the Liberal Arts, will be exhibiting his honors thesis research examining 20th-century philosopher Jacques Derrida’s study of conditional and unconditional hospitality and the aporia, the impasse, that exists between what is reality and the ideal.

“Unconditional hospitality is where someone comes to my door and I invite them in without asking their name, I don’t ask anything and, in fact, there isn’t even a door — it’s very idealistic,” Arnold said. “Derrida says conditional hospitality is a modality in which name connotations, occupations, religion and other identification allows us to discriminate our invitation. The impasse between the two, which Derrida called aporia, the Greek word for the impasse itself, is that we want both the conditional and unconditional at the same time but, yet, at the same time we don’t want either of them because each of them has a shortcoming.”

Capturing this on a poster is no easy task but Arnold is confident that his display will give observers something to think about.

“I wanted to show something that would be functional in an everyday setting, and hospitality makes a lot of sense,” Arnold said. “I look at it in a brand-new way. It’s not only how we welcome our neighbors but also how we welcome people from different groups and how we relate that to what kind of hospitality we offer. I’d like us to try to recognize the friend first and try to put the burden on the individual to prove himself or herself otherwise. What lies within that is that you can’t assume everyone is an enemy and you can’t be idealistic and assume everyone is a friend.”

While the majority of the exhibition focuses on individual work, several group projects are also featured, including a poster being presented by students enrolled in BMB 498A, Antibiotics: Development and Resistance.

Sophomore Rachel Criner said she’s a “little overwhelmed but excited” about presenting with the class.

“We’ve been putting so much work into this,” said Criner, a Schreyer Scholar majoring in life sciences in the Eberly College of Science and Spanish in the College of the Liberal Arts. “The research lab we work in is testing antibiotics to target a special pathway only found in bacteria. It’s exciting because antibiotics resistance is a huge problem, and it’s only going to get worse. We’re getting to a point in general in society where we don’t know where to turn next in antibiotics. This could potentially be very beneficial in the future if it turns out to be effective. It is exciting to think that, hopefully, I’m contributing to something that could help out in the future.”

Last Updated January 10, 2014