Grenfell Campus was successful in landing eight Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRAs) for the summer of 2021.
USRAs, awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), are meant to nurture students' interests and fully develop their potential for research careers in the natural sciences and engineering. They are also meant to encourage students to undertake graduate studies in these fields.
Dr. Robert Bailey, a math professor in Grenfell's School of Science and the Environment, was able to hire three students funded by USRAs. Alaina Pardy and Abigail Rowsell, two of the three, collaborated on "distance-regular graphs that arose from primitive groups." Outlines of all eight research projects are referenced below.
"NSERC USRA grants provide a unique opportunity to work directly with a professor on their research," said Ms. Pardy. "It helps expose you to topics that may not be covered in your normal classes and therefore it broadens your knowledge on your area of study. Through this, it's helpful in deciding which areas of your field you're most interested in. It also gives you research experience, which is beneficial if you go on to do a master's or PhD. Not only does it expose you to conducting research, which is typically a big part of completing these higher degrees, it can also be a good thing to put on applications to these programs as you're demonstrating that you have research experience."
Ms. Rowsell said the USRA gave her a new appreciation of her program, a B.Sc. in computational mathematics.
"The Computational Math degree at Grenfell includes courses from many fields of math; however, researching deeper into a particular field is not often an opportunity that a three-month semester course provides," she said. "This opportunity allowed me to experience and learn new concepts that I may not have had a chance to do in a classroom. Working one-on-one with an experienced supervisor also provided the chance to understand new and efficient ways at looking at math problems. This is knowledge I will certainly take with me as I continue my studies. I also had little to no understanding of what work math professors completed at Grenfell, but the NSERC USRA allowed me to experience it first-hand. I now can appreciate the work that mathematicians have done and continue to do and the effort it requires to advance the field further."
Both Ms. Pardy and Ms. Rowsell recommended that science students pursue these experiences.
Ms. Pardy noted, "these research opportunities give students the chance to better understand their field of study and it prepares them for research projects they may complete in their undergraduate degree or while completing their Masters or PhD. It exposes students to ideas and topics they may not cover in a normal course and in turn allows them to study topics they are particularly interested in more thoroughly."
To learn more about NSERC's USRA program, visit https://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/students-etudiants/ug-pc/usra-brpc_eng.asp.
Grenfell Campus USRA projects
1. Dr. Robert Bailey – Alaina Pardy
Cataloguing highly symmetric distance-regular graphs
Graph theory is the mathematical study of pairwise connections between objects (referred to as "vertices"), which could represent computers in a network, cities connected by direct flights, or atoms in an organic molecule, to give just a few examples. Group theory, a major branch of abstract algebra, is the mathematical study of the concept of symmetry, where "group actions" describe the symmetries of an object. Algebraic graph theory is often concerned with graphs with a high degree of symmetry or regularity, and exists in the overlap of these two disciplines. Distance-regular graphs are an important area of study in this field. The website www.distanceregular.org, maintained by Dr. Robert Bailey at Grenfell Campus, provides a growing database of distance-regular graphs in formats suitable for computations. A previous USRA project involved a computer analysis of distance-regular graphs arising from group actions, where the group is "primitive": loosely, this means that the symmetries cannot be broken down into separate components. That project was able to completely classify such graphs in many instances, where the graph had up to 4000 vertices; many of these graphs were already present in the database, but a significant number were not, particularly in the case of larger graphs. The purpose of this project is to exp...