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Students relish research

POSTED: July 28, 2014 12:53 a.m.

Parasites, memory and mockingbirds are just a few of the subjects undergraduates at the University of North Georgia are researching this year as part of Faculty-Undergraduate Summer Enrichment.

The program provides funding for undergraduate research assistants to work with faculty on a variety of research. On average, six research projects are funded each summer, with one to two undergraduate assistants assigned to each project.

Janice Crook-Hill, an assistant professor of biology at the Dahlonega campus, has her students donning Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan masks to study the facial recognition ability of mockingbirds. She and students Nadia Tinoco and Jessica Stehlin are building on the research of scientists at other universities. One experiment at the University of North Florida found mockingbirds can recognize humans, but did not show whether they could recognize faces specifically, while another experiment at the University of Washington showed crows can recognize masks of human faces.

Crook-Hill and her students are combining the two approaches, using masks to see if it is facial recognition that allows mockingbirds to know when the same human makes repeated visits to their nests. Different researchers visit the nests wearing the same masks and record how the mockingbirds react.

Crook-Hill said the data will be analyzed later this summer. She said she could not have performed the experiment without funding from the FUSE program, and that it has provided valuable access to the scientific world and experience with real scientific experimentation for the students.

"With this kind of program, they get to work as true collaborators," she said. "Since they’re doing research connected to what other scientists are doing, they get a connection to the world of science. It’s an excellent thing to have on their (curriculum vitae) for a job or for research."

She said the students will have the opportunity to present at a UNG conference, and may have the opportunity to present at a regional conference as well.

Along with biology instructor Melba Horton’s study on Flat Creek and Crook-Hill’s mockingbird study, projects conducted as part of the FUSE program this summer include a study on how stress affects the offspring of parasitic wasps, a project creating a database of a local historic cemetery, a study of how ovulation affects women’s physical appearance and a study seeking to enhance understanding of collaborative memory.


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