Cadets participate in cutting-edge research forum
By By David Edwards, Academy Spirit Staff Writer
/ Published May 06, 2011
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Co. -- One prominent aspect of the cadet experience at the Air Force Academy is the opportunity undergrads have to engage in cutting-edge research.
The breadth and depth of that research became evident at the eighth annual Colorado Springs Undergraduate Research Forum, held Saturday at the Academy. The event, commonly abbreviated CSURF, rotates among the campuses of the area's three major universities.
Students from all three institutions -- Colorado College, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy -- convened in Fairchild Hall. Between meal breaks, cadets and their academic peers at the other two schools presented the results of their research.
"The quality of research remains very high, from cutting-edge technology and science explorations in the STEM sciences as well as pointed researched topics in the social and human sciences," said Dr. Andrea Van Nort, an associate English professor and member of the CSURF steering committee. "We always seek to bring cadets into contact with their civilian peers working in the same domain, so the goal is to mix into each panel session participating students from each institution."
Delivering the keynote address this year was Maj. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. She directs a work force of nearly 11,000 people and manages more than $4 billion worth of research.
Dr. Van Nort said General Pawlikowski provided one of the highlights of this year's CSURF. She added that invitations had been extended to the Colorado Springs Top 30, and that led the executive officer of the Space Foundation, Eliot Pulham, to attend.
Research presentations consisted of three oral sessions and two poster sessions. More than 300 students from the three schools delivered presentations this year.
Dr. Van Nort said that in the future, faculty research could be included alongside the undergraduates' projects. That would require adoption of a theme, she said. The current format affords students wide latitude in choosing research projects, so there's no annual theme.
Cadets took full advantage of the openness of the forum. Their presentations ran the gamut, covering such diverse topics as Shakespeare and the Russian imperial secret police, the London Canal in New Orleans and ionic liquid coatings for energetic nanoparticles.
Being the host institution also introduced the Academy and its students to young people who weren't extremely familiar with the military school up the road from them.
"We heard back that the smiling faces of our fourth-classmen at the registration tables were welcome surprises for those who had never been to the base and even for those who had attended prior CSURF events," Dr. Van Nort said. "I've heard from USAFA faculty who had not participated in the past that they would definitely make the CSURF one of their graded events for next year. They were pleased with the handling of the sessions and the questions brought forward to the panelists regarding their research."