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News : Entomology student Nikki VanDerLaan Participates in Summer SURF Program

Entomology student Nikki VanDerLaan Participates in Summer SURF Program
by Zoe Hayes The Exponent
Nikki VanDerLaan These profiles are part two of a two-part series.

As one of two agriculture students participating in SURF this year, Nikki VanDerLaan is unusual in a program geared towards engineering and science students.

“My professor had an e-mail flyer about SURF and it said it was open to anyone,” VanDerLaan said. “So I applied through him and we pretty much crossed our fingers for the next couple of months hoping to hear from them.”

VanDerLaan’s research deals with the hickory bark beetle. The beetle only attacks hickory trees; the only treatment for infestations now is the removal and destruction of the affected tree. However, VanDerLaan hopes to find a better way to prevent the beetles’ spread. “I’m ... pretty much trying to study their colonization behavior and trying to determine what pheromones they use as an attractant to bring other hickory beetles to the tree,” she said. “And then once I find that pheromone, to use that to somehow prevent them from coming to the hickory trees to attack them.”

VanDerLaan became involved in the research through Matthew Ginzel, an assistant professor of entomology and forestry and natural resources who heads up a forest entomology laboratory. “He’d just found out that there was this decline in trees across Canada,” she said. “There’s nobody else working on this beetle specifically. Everyone else is working on the fungus that’s associated with them.”

Robert Janesheski enjoyed SURF so much in summer 2008 that he reapplied this summer.

“The first summer of SURF was an awesome experience. It changed the way I looked at research as well as graduate school,” he said in an e-mail. “The idea of what graduate school was to me changed drastically after the first summer. I really enjoyed it and wanted to continue at it which is why I chose to do SURF a second year.”

This summer, Janesheski is working on a continuation of the project he started in 2008, with the same professor and graduate mentor. “The first project I had worked on was shock-induced chemical reactions from mechanical stimulation on reactive materials ... and by the end of SURF the larger project was still being worked on,” he said. “Another reason I came back was to help finish it and see it to completion.”

He strongly recommends attending SURF to anyone who is considering applying to graduate school. “The best part about SURF is the experience that is really hard to find anywhere else if you are serious about going to graduate school,” he said. “Any student who is interested or even questionable about graduate school should look into and think about the SURF program because it is the closest experience they can get with hands on research.”

For Mallory Barkdull, Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, or SURF, combines two interests: Water quality research and Purdue’s campus.

“My parents both went to Purdue; my dad did civil engineering here,” she said. “So I was interested in it.”

Barkdull applied to both Purdue and Virginia Tech University, but ultimately chose the latter. “I was very torn, so this gave me a chance to try out Purdue,” she said.

The program also gives her a chance to spend her summer collecting water samples at Indiana lakes and test their quality. “I like being outside and doing research outside,” Barkdull said.

“I went to Lake Maxinkuckee last Friday. We drove around in a small boat and used a GPS to get the perimeter so we can use a remote collector later. We also took water samples – and we got soaked in the process! It was awesome to jump right into what I’ll be doing this summer.”