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Scholars conduct summer research

If you were to ask senior Jada Harris what she did over the summer, she would say that she wrote a play: a play that will, hopefully, be performed as part of the Independent Artists Series on Miami University's campus in the spring.

If you were to ask Bryce Linkous what he did over the summer, he would say he helped create an effective cancer-detection method. More specifically, he would say he studied a type of medical imaging called optical coherence tomography (OCT) that has the potential to detect bladder cancer.

Both Harris and Linkous received these opportunities through the Undergraduate Summer Scholars (USS), a program offered by the university's Office of Research for Undergraduates (ORU). Through USS, students are paired with a faculty mentor who guides the student through the research process of a project of their choosing. They work together throughout the whole summer, with most projects carrying on into the fall and spring semesters.

"When most people think of research, they think it has to be scientifically related," said ORU director Martha Weber. "But that isn't always the case. Research is an important skill that spreads across all disciplines, whether that be chemical engineering or creative arts."

Every year, 100 students are accepted into the program. Upon acceptance, these students receive a $2,600 fellowship award, $400 project expense and a tuition-only waiver for the six credit hours of independent study they'll be completing. In order to apply, a student must have achieved junior-level standing, or 60 credit hours, prior to the research summer.

Harris said that, a year ago, she couldn't have anticipated what she would accomplish through her research.

"I remember my friend telling me about the program last year and on a whim. I decided to apply, not really knowing what research I would do or if I'd even get accepted," Harris said. "But here I am now, a year later, working with the Chair of the Theatre Department trying to get my play published."

Harris, a theatre major, originally came up with the idea for her play, "Same Blood," as part of an assignment for a class.

"We had to write a 10-minute play for my playwriting class," she said. "I came up with the idea of a dystopian world where there were few minorities left. Those that still existed were forced to hide underground."

Harris talked about how she created the characters Adam, a bi-racial man, and Eve, a black woman. The play details their relationship and highlights the struggle many minorities face.

"This play is not supposed to be attacking anyone of any sort. It's just the thoughts I've had from recent exposure to the media, to the people around me and how their emotions are affected by these times that we're living in," said Harris. "Everything I wrote is just from the heart."

While Harris came up with her ideas by walking around campus and immersing herself in songs such as "Black Butterfly" by Deniece Williams and "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke, Linkous, a bioengineering major, generated his hypotheses through in-depth reading of scientific bioengineering books.

"Coming into this a year ago, the only relevant classes I had under my belt were Physics 1 and 2," said Linkous. "I knew practically nothing about OCT, but I was interested in medical imaging, and through my academic advisor I was introduced to my USS mentor, Dr. Hui Wang."

In Spring 2017, Linkous and a fellow student learned about the physics and engineering behind OCT from Wang. He met with them on a regular basis and assigned them relevant textbook material to read.

"I would say we did a pretty good job of learning that spring," said Linkous. "When summer came around, we jumped right into it."

Instead of solely absorbing information that summer through USS, Linkous had the opportunity to put all he had learned into practice. By the end of the summer, he and his team had assembled the individual parts of the OCT device. However, despite the significant progress made by Linkous, Wang and his fellow students, there is still a lot to be done until the device is complete.

Linkous reflected on the rigor of his research experience.

"It requires being willing to learn," he said. "You have to realize that you're not going to be an expert on the topic at the beginning. Even three months or 20 years into your research, you're still going to be learning things and challenging yourself every day."