In Up to the Elbows

Dana Bauer
September 01, 1998

My father is a chemist. Growing up, I only had vague notions of what he did during his long hours in lab. "I'm up to my elbows in ink," he would joke. It wasn't until college, when a boyfriend of mine tried to spark a dinner-table conversation, that I learned the details of my father's research. The short version: he makes ink for ink-jet printers. But when he explained his work, his eyes grew wide with intensity and he pounded the table. I never knew.

feet on rocks

While writing for this magazine, I met undergraduates who are just as excited about their research. Marcus Ross has loved dinosaurs since the sixth grade, the year his teacher nicknamed him Marcusaurus. After sifting for bones and teeth with paleontologist Roger Cuffey, Ross published his research then went west to graduate school to continue his dinosaur search. As a sophomore, Moriah Spzara began working with entomologist Jack Schultz. She took a detour through Australia and then New Mexico to tackle a second research project on zoos, and later returned to Penn State to finish examining insects. The articles here reveal students, like Ross and Spzara, who have gone above and beyond the typical student.

"Undergraduates are willing to take risks," says biologist Jim Marden. "The most important thing for them is to find out if they like research. They'll try anything." In other words, they're willing to get into the unknown, up to their elbows.

At the undergraduate research fair last March, I overheard Marden's student Kathy Walsh explain her research to friends. When she started, the job seemed overwhelming, and a little tedious. Then things got really exciting. It showed on her face as she talked about looking at stonefly wings under the microscope.

"Oh!" One friend said, smiling at Walsh. "So that's what you've been doing. Cool.

"I never knew."

Last Updated September 01, 1998