MADISON – While much of the diligent work of students takes place behind the scenes, the tenth annual Undergraduate Symposium will be an opportunity for achievement to publicly shine for more than 300 students.

On Wednesday, April 16, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., students will present, display and perform nearly 260 projects from all areas of study at the Memorial Union, The event celebrates research, creative endeavor and service learning among University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduates.

“This is by far the biggest turnout we’ve had,” says Coordinator Noel Howlett. “I think it’s one of the few chances that students get to share their work-actually getting it out there and putting it on a scale of this kind is a great opportunity for undergraduates.”

Original work within the humanities, fine arts, and the biological, physical and social sciences will be presented to the public. This year’s symposium will also feature several musical performances in Great Hall throughout the day.

The four following projects are a sampling of the scholarship and creativity of dedicated symposium participants.

— Engaging Elementary Students in After School Science Clubs: Emily Leibold and Meghan Tauber

Getting elementary students hooked on after-school science may sound challenging, but sophomore genetics major Emily Leibold says that “if you give a child the opportunity to decorate a rocket ship or potentially blow something up, they will be more than happy to learn about science.”

Meghan Tauber, a junior pre-med chemistry major, teamed up with Leibold in spreading science education to youth in Madison.  Both enrolled in Dorothea Ledin’s biology special topics course this spring to identify why young students lack interest in the sciences. The students decided the best way to spur interest is to share their excitement about science topics they are currently studying.

Tauber and Leibold are involved with Frank Allis Elementary School’s “Safe Haven” program, which allows children in kindergarten through fifth grade to participate in extra-curricular activities when parents are unable to pick their children up directly after school.  Beginning with just eight students, the enthusiastic duo has nearly tripled after-school attendance since January.

Some crowd-pleasing projects included erupting Play-Doh volcanoes and Alka-Seltzer rockets.

“It gets pretty intense because the kids like to do everything themselves and often, we work with potentially dangerous materials,” says Leibold.

Tauber adds, “Some kids aren’t even allowed to play with scissors yet and we’re teaching them how to send rockets into the air.”

Leibold and Tauber will continue working with Frank Allis’s summer-school program after Tauber received funding through a Wisconsin Undergraduate Fellowship grant.

“We really hope to get the undergraduate community involved,” says Tauber.  “It’s a rewarding project I think a lot of students would want to be a part of teaching today’s youth.”

— The Hard Facts Behind Soft Drinks: Seve Ponce de Leon

Soft drinks are the single largest source of calories in the American diet, yet they provide little to no nutritional value. Seve Ponce de Leon was determined to find what the beloved, carbonated beverage actually contained, and his findings might surprise you.

An English and environmental studies major, Ponce de Leon researched the contents of soda over the course of his last two semesters as an undergraduate.

“I’ve always been interested in how people are often oblivious to what they eat or drink,” says Ponce de Leon. “I focused on what goes into soda and what the everyday consumer doesn’t realize about the plethora of potentially harmful ingredients.”

Ponce de Leon said that although water is the main ingredient of the soft drink, it is not actually derived from the ground. It’s typically tap water from municipal supplies and is not only used in soda, but in branded waters such as Aquifina and Dasani.

In addition to the water source, Ponce de Leon also discovered that the combination of particular elements could have a negative effect on the human body.

“Sodium benzoate is commonly used as a preservative in foods; but what’s interesting is that in certain beverages that had vitamin C, the two together were reacting,” says Ponce de Leon. “When given enough shelf life and the proper temperature conditions, they form benzene, which is a known carcinogen according to the FDA.”

In addition to gaining local exposure at the symposium, Ponce de Leon hopes to promote awareness in the American diet.

Ponce de Leon adds, “I just hope to teach people a little bit about the product or at least make them think about something they haven’t before.”

— Creating a Web Site for the Wildlife Ecology 375 Mexico Course: Mandy Feavel and Lili Prahl

Wildlife ecology students seldom get the chance to utilize their computer technology skills, so when seniors Mandy Feavel and Lili Prahl were given the opportunity to document their class trip to Mexico in the form of a Web site, they were more than thrilled.

“In our area of study, we don’t get many chances to do something like Lili and I are doing,” says Feavel.  “I think it’s a great skill to have and an awesome way to publicize our research.”

Feavel and Prahl joined the wildlife ecology course on a 14-day visit to western Mexico over winter break to learn about conservation efforts in the region. The class made stops at Las Joyas research station in the Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve, at universities and in outlying communities.

The team’s instructor, Jim Berkleman, requested that a couple students create a Web site to preserve and showcase photographs, lecture notes and findings.  Feavel and Prahl volunteered to take a Web design course offered by UW-Madison to perfect their project.

“Once we were taught the basics, we focused on what kind of content we wanted to post on the site,” says Feavel. “Primarily, we want this to look back on all the work we did, but our Mexican colleagues are interested in seeing it as well.”

Both Feavel and Prahl also hope the Web site will attract students who are interested in taking Wildlife Ecology 375, which is offered every other year.