The SURE program fuses teaching and scholarship.

SURE expands student research experience

Three Oxford students spent the summer exploring black holes, organic farming strategies, and a new method for synthesizing molecules found in different drugs.

Summer days provide a perfect opportunity for Oxford College students to make great strides on professional research projects. This year’s SURE-Oxford (Summer Undergraduate Research at Emory) program pairs three students with faculty members who oversee their work and mentor them in the methods and operation of research.

Haleigh Machost, Linda Wu, and Ruomin Zhu are conducting research for 10 weeks during the summer as part of SURE-Oxford, an extension of Emory University's SURE program. 

Haleigh Machost wanted to take part in the SURE-Oxford program because it allowed her to be hands-on in the lab every day.Machost 17Ox, a rising junior at Emory College, wanted to take part in the SURE-Oxford program because it allowed her to be hands-on in the lab every day. “It was an amazing opportunity to gain both knowledge and practical experience that I couldn’t pass up,” says Machost, who is from Alpharetta, Ga.

The chemistry major valued the amount of time she could dedicate to research. “During the school year, time is further divided between school and studying,” she explains, “so the amount of progress that we’re able to make during a program like this is far greater than I expected.”

Annette Neuman, Oxford assistant professor of chemistry, also appreciates the progress that can be made during the summer.

“Summer research is an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the research process in a way that they can't do when they're also taking a full load of classes,” Neuman says. “My students participate in every step of the research process, from literature searches to planning experiments to carrying out and purifying chemical reactions.”

Machost joined Neuman, who is participating in SURE-Oxford for the fifth year, in her ongoing research. They are trying to find a new method for the synthesis of triazoles—organic molecules containing carbon and nitrogen found in several different types of drugs. After isolating these substances, the pair plan to collaborate with Sarah Fankhauser to test their activity against E. coli and tuberculosis. 

Sarah Fankhauser and Linda Wu study organic farming strategies.Sarah Fankhauser, Oxford assistant professor of biology, is serving as a SURE-Oxford mentor for the first time this summer. She enjoys watching student Linda Wu get excited about trying a new technique and seeing the results.

“For a small second it’s knowing something—even something little—that no one else in the world knows,” Fankhauser says.

Fankhauser and Wu, a rising sophomore from Houston, Texas, are looking at organic farming strategies. They are studying how these strategies impact microbial diversity and soil fertility on the Oxford Organic Farm.

Wu enjoyed gaining valuable experience this summer that will assist her on a pre-med track. “Not only did I learn a lot of skills in scientific inquiry and laboratory techniques, I also learned a lot about independence in the lab and many other aspects of life,” she says.

Providing unique research opportunities

SURE-Oxford provided an ideal fit for Tommy Osburn’s research interests. Osburn, who joined Oxford as assistant professor of physics last fall, appreciates the school’s undergraduate research opportunities. He identified potential research projects that would resonate strongly with the science and math classes taught at Oxford.

“The opportunity to work with excellent students on research problems is one reason Oxford College had such a strong appeal for me,” Osburn says.  

Osburn is working with rising junior Ruomin Zhu 17Ox from Shaoxing City, China. They are applying theoretical physics to generate computer models of binary black hole systems—systems consisting of two black holes orbiting one another. 

“I think participating in a summer research program like SURE-Oxford can be a defining moment for a student's academic and professional development,” Osburn says. “Not only does a student learn about a specific topic, they discover how knowledge is generated and where their interests fit into the larger world of research.”

Osburn considers the SURE program a rewarding fusion of teaching and scholarship. He enjoys the one-on-one interaction with Zhu and applying what they learned to an unsolved astrophysics project.

“It’s a rare opportunity for first- and second-year students to engage in cutting-edge research, and Oxford College is ripe with those opportunities,” Osburn says.

Students will present their research poster in an end-of-session gathering August 2 in the Oxford Science Building. They will also gather in Atlanta on August 3 to share and showcase their results.