UMW senior Hannah Frederick boiled a summer’s worth of scientific research down to a single hypothetical question. Cool and collected, she asked a crowd yesterday: How can math be used to keep Eve from accessing online conversations between Alice and Bob?
Despite the easy-to-digest synopsis, Frederick’s project – Applications of Circulant Matrices Over Finite Fields for a Key Exchange Protocol – was packed with complex concepts, intricate formulas and implications for far more than a trio of imaginary people.
“This could be amazing used in real life for things like online shopping and foreign intelligence,” said Frederick, who got hooked on cryptography last spring in a class with Professor of Mathematics Randall Helmstutler. “It’s just such an interesting topic.”
She was among 21 students chosen for their promise – and their curiosity – to take part in UMW’s Summer Science Institute (SSI). The program gives undergrads an intense 10-week research experience and a jumpstart on projects they plan to continue during the school year. Participants spread out across the Hurley Convergence Center yesterday, using giant posters and oral presentations to show off their methods and findings at the SSI Research Symposium. Topics ranged from the clean up of diesel spills to pollution of marine life by plastic, from construction of cluster computers to the stress-causing effects of cortisol in zebrafish.
“We’re looking for students who are really motivated with a high degree of curiosity,” said Associate Professor of Biology Abbie Tomba, who coordinates the program with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Davis Oldham. “These are the students who end up in my office with really good follow-up questions, and that’s important for a researcher.”
SSI pulls young scholars from six concentrations – biology, chemistry, computer science, Earth science, math and physics – into the lab for several hours a day to gather the momentum they’ll need to really rev up their research in the fall.
“Having that foundation early on gets them ready to work independently,” Oldham said. “They’re not using time during the school year to be trained. They’re building upon things they’ve already done before.”