Undergraduates show off research in competition

Burhanuddin Calcuttawala

The three winners of the Texas Research Showdown were announced after the six finalists presented their research to a panel of student and faculty judges on Nov. 15. 

Petroleum engineering sophomore Karan Jerath placed first, followed by visual arts studies senior Julia Caswell and economics junior Joy Youwakim, who received third place. The competition was judged partly based on the merit of the research and the students’ presentations. Winners received $1,500, $750 and $250, respectively.

The researchers first submitted short videos introducing their work, followed by a two-week online voting period that was open to all undergraduates, which determined the finalists.

Inspired by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Jerath focused his research on creating a sustainable solution for cleaning up oil spills. He used modeling software to create a device that could potentially save oil and gas companies money and prevent environmental damage.

“[Deepwater Horizon’s idea] was called a cofferdam, and the idea of this was to sit over the spill and collect the water, oil and gas … [which] would then be incinerated,” Jerath said. “What I decided to do was to take that approach, but to change it in a way to where it had a sustainability factor to it. This included taking the phases that were coming in — the water, oil and gas — and separating them into homogenous phases. That way, you could recycle the phases immediately.”

Caswell, who had the most votes after the online voting process, looked into creating personalized experiences in art museums called audio walks.

“Unlike audio guides or podcasts in a museum, audio walks not only allow the viewer to receive the information, but also embody the experience,” Caswell said in her video submission. “Audio walks can be a combination of the sound from the actual surroundings overlaid with sounds from past experiences, soundtracks, musical instruments, narrative and more.”

Jerath, Caswell and Youwakim said the Showdown was a good opportunity to showcase their work and grow professionally.

Alexandra Wettlaufer, professor of French and comparative literature, was a faculty judge for the final presentations and said undergraduate research is an important extension of the classroom.

“No research is a waste of time,” Wettlaufer said. “Even if you don’t come up with your desired results or nothing conclusive, you will have learned a lot more about the process , you will have learned about the field, you will have learned a lot about asking questions."