Undergraduate researcher earns top spot at scientific symposium

Grove City College senior Abigail Noll ’18 won first place for her oral presentation at the 13th Annual Regional Scientific Consortium Symposium earlier this month at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Erie, Pa.

Noll, a Mechanical Engineering major from Silver Spring, Md., took the top prize at the professional science conference with an explanation of her research into the balance of fluid forces in fish-like propulsion. 

The work contributes to the fields of biomimetic propulsion and fish ecology and could have an impact on the design of watercraft and oceanographic research vehicles and provide information that could help ecologists and policy makers manage vital ocean resources, according to Erik J. Anderson, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Grove City College.

Noll gathered data for the research during the summer of 2015 while on a paid internship at Harvard University, where she worked with Anderson, Harvard scientist George Lauder and Grove City College alumnus Spencer Garborg ’16. For the past two summers, Noll has worked with Anderson at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on a similar project supported by grants from the Swezey Fund and the Jewell, Moore and MacKenzie Fund, both of which support STEM research at Grove City College.

“Abby has made a major contribution to the research impact of the College and is an all-around quality person,” Anderson said. “It was great to see her win this award as a capstone to over three years of outstanding work.” 

Noll is a Trustee Fellow at Grove City College, part of a scholarship program that provides a select group of the College’s best and brightest students with financial support and enhanced opportunities to explore their disciplines, their faith and their leadership potential.

“Abby is an example of one of the great success stories of the program and its value to the College. When we attract this kind of talent, things like this award happen more often,” Anderson said. “She inspires the other students in my lab and on campus.”

Two other Grove City College students gave talks at the symposium in Erie. Tim Gridley ’18 presented work related to resonance in fish swimming and Caroline Fedele ’20 discussed the effect of light on the behavior of plankton swimming in turbulence. Their research has significance in the fields of ecology and marine resource management.

Their work and Noll’s benefited from the contributions of a number of other students who work closely with Anderson in his lab in Hoyt Hall of Engineering on campus. They include Daniel Gibson ’19, Ken Kato ’18, Evan Lundburg ’19, Evan Reese ’20, Micah Warren ’20, and Elizabeth Schwab ‘20. Anderson’s students come from several academic departments — Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Biology and Computer Science — which enhances the productivity of the multidisciplinary work.

The student-faculty research that Anderson oversees – and that Grove City College is developing a reputation as a leader in – focuses on the hydrodynamic strategies that aquatic organisms, such as fish, squid and tiny plankton, use to move through the water efficiently and effectively. The work has applications in marine resource management and novel marine vehicle design. 

Anderson and his students gather data using high-speed cinematography, machine vision, flow visualization and specialized water tunnels and tanks, including a state-of-the-art flow visualization system built by Anderson and a turbulence tank that was built in-house by Mechanical Engineering majors.

Other work is done in collaboration with scientists at institutions like the University of Michigan, Harvard and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Most of the data from this work is processed and analyzed by Anderson’s students at Grove City College and then published in academic and professional journals such as the “Journal of Experimental Biology,” “Physics of Fluids,” “Marine Ecology Progress Series” and” PLOS ONE.”

Alumni of the lab have gone on to graduate studies and careers at esteemed institutions such as Princeton, MIT, University of Alabama, National Institutes of Health, Virginia Tech, CERN, Boston University, the University of Florida and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Undergraduate researcher earns top spot at scientific symposium

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