Winners of 20th TU Research Colloquium announced

13 April 2017
Alex Garoffolo, Student Writer

The annual Research Colloquium was held March 27-31. Mariah Heck won first place with her research on bark beetle infestations in the Sierra National Forest.

March 27-31, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the second floor of ACAC, TU students presented research on topics ranging from “spherically symmetric neutron star simulations” to the “John Birch Society’s civil rights conspiracies” and everything in between. The event, in its twentieth year, is designed to showcase the student research at TU as well as give students a chance to professionally present their research in a competition-based setting.

The colloquium, per usual, was held in conjunction with the OU-Tulsa Research Forum. Students presenting posters of their work rather than giving oral presentations on their research to panels of judges will showcase their findings at the OU-Tulsa campus on April 18.

Each student presentation is limited to 20 minutes, including a five minute questioning period in which any judge or member of the audience may ask about their research. Candidates are graded on a score of one to nine (best) in multiple categories: central message, presentation of ideas, use of supporting materials, language, delivery and abstract. At the end of the week, all scores are tabulated and top scorers receive their recognition at the culminating banquet. First, second and third place all come with cash awards.

In 1998, TU established the event to provide students with the opportunity to gain public speaking experience, learn about other fields of student research outside their own, and experience judging methods used by professional organizations at international meetings. It is open to all TU students, regardless of grade or college. It grew from a six student, one session event into the week long colloquium it is today, averaging 150 students.

According to the program handbook, due to the continued success of the colloquium, the event will continue to expand in size and scope, “allowing TU students to expand their knowledge base of other fields and enabling the TU community to actively support our students in their endeavors.”

Mariah Heck, a senior studying geophysics and geosciences, won first prize with her research concerning bark beetle infestations in pine trees in the Sierra National Forest in southern California. During her internship with NASA, she decided to look at the problem from the outside in. Using NASA’s satellite data, during its Student Airborne Research Program in California last summer, Heck tried to see if there existed certain wavelengths of light that reflected the beginning signs of infestations, as a way to use satellite images to recognize bark beetle populations in their early stages before they became a catastrophic problem.

The bark beetle problem is not contained within California either. Heck said they’re “responsible for tree deaths in Colorado and parts of Canada as well.” The beetles started to thrive due to California’s drought conditions and mild winters. Although she ultimately did not find a specific wavelength to identify bark beetles, Heck still took home the top prize at the Colloquium — $250 cash and a certificate. When asked what she’d use the money for, ever the academic, she replied “probably to pay for supplies toward [geoscience] field camp this summer.” Her advice for giving a good presentation? “I try to present my research in a way anybody can understand,” she said, “like I’m talking to my grandmother.”

Heck had prior experience presenting this research as well. First, she presented it at the end of her NASA internship last summer. From there, the American Geophysical Union asked her to present her findings at its conference in San Francisco in December. Her plans after graduation and field camp include a potential gap year and an eventual Ph.D in planetary science, potentially returning to NASA.