Research in Medical Robotics

– written by Cenk Baykal, BS Computer Science and Mathematics

When I started at UNC, I didn’t have the slightest idea what undergraduate research was. As a freshman, I heard about research opportunities, but given my inexperience, I was hesitant on pursuing them until my sophomore year. That year, I began to work as a research assistant in Enabling Technologies under the supervision of Dr. Gary Bishop. During this time, I helped develop and enhance tarheelreader.org, a website designed to provide a collection of easy-to-read books, and created an online game designed for visually impaired students. I was able to see the positive impact this work had, and wanted to continue conducting research afterwards.

I then became a research assistant in the Computational Robotics Group led by Dr. Ron Alterovitz. In the robotics group, I’ve been researching concentric tube robots – medical robots that have potential to enable novel and minimally-invasive surgical procedures. One challenge that we’ve faced is allowing for intuitive control of these robots by physicians. Hence, I have worked with graduate student Luis Torres and developed a multi-component system architecture that bridges real-time motion planning with an interactive user interface and visualization. Concurrently with my robotics work, I conducted research with Dr. Ming Lin and graduate student David Wilkie on participatory route planning, which culminated in the creation of a mobile system, similar to Google Maps, that was able to generate optimal route plans by considering the impact of the system’s own plans on future traffic conditions.

An image of the cocentric tube robot used in Cenk's project.

An image of the cocentric tube robot used in Cenk’s project.

During Summer 2014, I continued my research on concentric tube robots with the help of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and my advisor Dr. Ron Alterovitz. Namely, I have been investigating the optimization of the design of these medical robots on an application- and patient-specific basis. More specifically, I have been developing a software program that is capable of computing the optimal design under which the robot can feasibly maneuver to clinical regions of interest and simultaneously avoid damage to surrounding tissue. This has been an extremely exciting project and a great experience as it not only combines my passion for Computer Science and Math, but also has potential to facilitate the use of concentric tube robots for early diagnosis of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Thanks to the Dunlevie Honors Undergraduate Research Award, I will be extending my work and writing an honors thesis on the design optimization for concentric tube robots during my senior year.

In retrospect, undergraduate research has definitely been a highlight of my experience at Carolina. I had the opportunity to work on fascinating projects and collaborate with outstanding professors, graduate students, and mentors, to whom I am extremely grateful. Conducting research has exposed me to a wide variety of notions and concepts that I would not otherwise be introduced to in a classroom setting alone. Participating in undergraduate research has also motivated me to apply to graduate schools this fall in pursuit of a PhD in Computer Science, something that had never crossed my mind when I first came to Carolina. I would definitely encourage every undergraduate student to give research a try and not be demotivated by qualms concerning lack of experience or skill. As I look back on my research experience, the only regret I have is not starting any sooner.

For more information about these projects please see:

http://robotics.cs.unc.edu/
http://tarheelreader.org/

http://gamma.cs.unc.edu/

 

Exploring Research in Public Policy

– written by Dalia Kaakour, Public Policy student

Research. Research. Research. Coming to UNC, I had been inundated with pamphlets urging me to explore my curiosities, and had spent hours trying to understand things like my older brother’s complicated research — it was something related to biophysics…I think. But despite my limited understanding of what “research” really meant, I was convinced that I would end up doing it, because frankly, it seemed like an important thing to do at a huge research institution like UNC.

Not long after arriving at, I found myself applying to labs, but without any real reason for why I wanted these positions. I realized that I wasn’t allowing my interests and passions to drive my research goals; I wasn’t searching with any direction or specific purpose.

After three years of reflection, exploration and, of course, a little luck, I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally found my niche in research. I reconciled my interests in the fields of public policy and medicine, independently designing and taking on a project examining “Physicians’ End-of-Life Healthcare Decision-Making,” as my Senior Honors Thesis. If you think the title sounds like a mouthful, just imagine explaining it to your friends and family!

Dalia at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research

Dalia at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research

The topic stems from my interest in healthcare spending. Not only do we as Americans spend way more than we have, but we undergo treatments and procedures that we don’t really even want. This is particularly pertinent to end-of-life care. The reality is that we spend an incredibly large amount of money on health care expenditures and often undergo unwanted treatments in the last days or weeks of our lives.

Not only does this put a strain on our finances as individuals, but it also puts pressure on our domestic healthcare system as a whole. Looking at this issue through the lens of doctors and what they would choose for their own end-of-life healthcare measures, I am examining the discordance between physicians and their patients. My hope is to draw conclusions as to what can be done to improve communication while still respecting patient desires and the authority of physicians, all the while retaining efficiency in end-of-life care.

Overall, my research project within the Department of Public Policy has been one of the highlights of my academic career. I went from an inexperienced undergraduate to a Principal Investigator — skipping over the Research Assistant step and everything else in between, which may not be the traditional way of doing things. However, everyone has a different path to reach their ends, and the best advice I can give is that it is never too late to find your passions, whether it is through research or elsewhere in life. I now finally understand what it means to “research” — not in its textbook definition, but more importantly in what it means to me as a student, and the continued role that I plan for it to have in my future career and life.

The Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Other Spring 2015 Events to Highlight Undergraduate Research

Here in the Office for Undergraduate Research we are busy gearing up for the annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research which will be held on Wednesday, April 15 from 1:00-3:15 p.m. as part of National Undergraduate Research Week.

 

We are fortunate to have additional events taking place on campus this spring that highlight undergraduate researchers at Carolina. Please join us at the Celebration and also take advantage of these other opportunities to support other students and learn about the wide range of research being conducted by Carolina undergrads.

Upcoming Events:

Biology Undergraduate Research Poster Session
Friday, April 17, 2015
2:00-5:00 p.m.
Genome Sciences Building, lower level lobby

BIOL 395 students in their second semester of research will present their findings. The posters will be displayed throughout the week of April 13-17.

Undergraduate Art Symposium
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 (tentative)

Details forthcoming

If your department or unit is hosting an undergraduate research conference, symposium or event, please let us know and we will be happy to include it on this list.

Completed Events:

Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology Student Research Symposium
Saturday, February 21, 2015
9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
North Carolina Botanical Garden

The 3rd annual CEE Student Research Symposium is designed to showcase many of the program’s students and their research accomplishments.  The symposium will incorporate oral and poster presentations from both graduate and undergraduate students over the course of the day.  In addition, the symposium will serve as a great networking vehicle for various members of CEE to meet and get to know one another. This event’s main goals are to provide student researchers the opportunity to present their research in a supportive environment and to foster relationships among members of the Curriculum, the University community, and the Research Triangle.​ You can review the program: CEE Symposium 2015.

McCain African and Diaspora Student Undergraduate Research Conference
Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies
March 20-21

The McCain African and Diaspora Student Undergraduate Research Conference presents undergraduate research projects on a variety of aspects of African, African American and Diaspora studies. The Dunbar-Stone lecture will kick off the conference on Friday, March 20; the keynote speaker is Cami Chavis. The conference will follow on Saturday, March 21 from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Read about this Conference here.

Biology Undergraduate Research Honors Symposium
Monday, March 23, 2015
All day in Coker 215

Biology senior honors thesis students present their research. Open to the public.

Department of Sociology Honors Research Presentations
Monday, March 23, 2015
3:30 PM
Hamilton 271

Sociology Honors students from Duke and UNC will be presenting their findings. Everyone is invited to attend.

Reflection and Resolution: The Summer Internship Program at NIEHS

Written by Yasemin Cole, Biology Major

As the year came to a close, I reflected on the opportunities UNC-Chapel Hill has given me and the amount I have grown academically since I entered as a first year student. One experience topped the list: this past summer, as I was preparing to leave for my nine week journey to study abroad in London, I received exciting news from my mentor at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) that I would be a co-author of a scientific research article. I was ecstatic to hear the news and the memories came flowing back in my mind of my time in the lab running western blots and going into the dark room time after time to develop films. My experience at NIEHS sparked my passion for scientific research and gave me fundamental research skills that I have built upon as a Biology major at UNC.

Reflecting on the experience, I knew that my hard work in the lab for the past two summers had paid off — not because a paper was published with my name on it but because I had helped find something that no one has seen before.

During the summer before my freshman year and the summer before my sophomore year I spent 8 weeks each summer working at NIEHS with the Summer Internship Program (SIP). With the help of my mentor, I researched the role of Glis3 (a transcription factor which regulates insulin production) in transdifferentiating an exocrine cell into an insulin-producing beta cell. The following summer, I built upon this work by researching the protein-protein interaction between an ubiquitin ligase and Glis3 to see how it affects insulin transcription. Through this research process, I learned the art of experimentation and built the curiosity to analytically question results one step at a time.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park

To a non-science major student these terms may be unfamiliar but the point is that as a first year I was able to learn about these incredible cellular mechanisms that occur in each cell of your body. To me, that is an amazing thing! Potentially in the future, with further research, we will be able to identify therapeutic targets for the treatment of diabetes (an insulin related disease). I know that my research is one small step in the many steps that will eventually help someone who is sick.

Beyond working in the lab, the SIP program provided me with the opportunity to explore my scientific interests by listening to talks and presentations given by other labs at NIEHS. Furthermore, all SIP participants attended planned seminars and workshops on topics such as UV radiation and pollution (which were my favorite). At the end of the program, all participants presented their research at the poster session. Apart from these enriching activities, I met other UNC students and college students from around the U.S. who are as passionate as I am for science. This program by far went beyond the expectations that I had when I applied.

My suggested New Year’s resolution for you is to apply for this internship program and to take part in this incredible experience. If I could apply again for this internship program I wouldn’t think twice; I believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It made me realize how basic scientific research works and how it benefits human health. Since this research experience, I have been brought back to these thoughts in all of my Biology classes where we learn about amazing scientific discoveries and feats. But nothing can compare to tangibly performing experiments and discovering results that no one has seen before; that is the beauty of scientific research.

 

Note: The deadline for the Summer 2015 SIP is March 1, 2015.

From Miami to Chapel Hill – One SMART-T Alumna’s journey

-written by Virginia Perello B.A. Chemistry 2014

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

I am a Latina and a Cuban immigrant, raised in Chile. I moved to the United States in 2006 with my family and the dream of being the first woman in my family to become a doctor. After graduating from the two-year Honors College at Miami Dade College, I decided to continue my education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for all of the incredible research opportunities it has to offer. This decision forced me to look beyond what had become familiar, my home state of Florida, and move to North Carolina. At UNC, I grew not only academically, but also on a personal level. I found the classes to be much more challenging and demanding than in my prior school, but I believe that the experience made me a better student. Along with adjusting to UNC’s demanding atmosphere, I gained a greater sense of inquiry and desire to do more outside of the classroom.

After searching for research opportunities both online and through conversations with professors, and getting nowhere, I received an unexpected email stating I had been recommended to participate in the Science and Math Achievement Resourcefulness Track for Transfer students (SMART-T) program. I was immediately drawn to investigate what the program was about, as I had never heard of it before. The more I read about it, the more eager I was to apply. I submitted my application to Dr. Gidi Shemer, SMART Program Director, who paired me with Dr. Mike Kulis. Dr. Kulis is a Research Assistant Professor in the department of Pediatrics. This was a good match for me, because my ultimate goal was to become a pediatrician and work with Doctors Without Borders.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Dr. Kulis worked in the Food Allergy Lab, which gave me the opportunity to contribute to the research on immunotherapy for food allergies. This research assesses whether or not the antibody isotype, IgG, can be a factor of decreasing allergic reaction and prevention of anaphylactic shock. The significance of this project is that it will provide a better understanding of the role of IgG in immunotherapy for allergic subjects. Thus, it will contribute to the diagnosis and therapy for peanut allergies. The ultimate goal of this project is to assess whether or not histamine release from the basophil is inhibited as a result of IgG, which is directly proportional to peanut allergen exposure over time as a result of immunotherapy. Peanut allergy accounts for the vast majority of life threatening and fatal allergic reactions to foods and affects approximately 3 million Americans and 3.9% of the pediatric population.

Under Dr. Kulis’ mentorship, my SMART-T experience has helped me view the clinical side of medicine from a completely new perspective. Dr. Kulis taught me about important laboratory techniques such as the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) method and provided me with the tools to become a better researcher and future doctor. I was able to see the interconnection between scientific research and individual wellbeing in a healthcare based laboratory, since allergies affect a person’s physical and social welfare. I used to think researchers only worked in a lab and did not have much patient exposure, but I have learned that it is possible to work in a lab setting and still have the essential patient interaction. My summer in the SMART-T program solidified my decision to become a pediatric physician, who is involved in clinical research.

My SMART-T experience has taught me that for anyone thinking that it is too late to get involved in research or think there isn’t enough time, trust me there is a research opportunity out there for you! Summer research fellowships are the perfect programs as they do not get in the way of courses during the regular fall and spring terms and you can apply during any point of your undergraduate career. I highly recommend just taking the time to apply once you find an opportunity that suits you, as I did, because who knows how these opportunities may shape your career goals.divider

Letters from Panama, Summer 2014

Brianna Osinski, who graduated from Carolina in May with a major in Biology, in is Panama on a research internship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. As an undergraduate, Brianna studied phenotypic plasticity in spadefoot toads in the lab of Dr. David Pfennig. Brianna has been sharing her experiences with her mentor, Dr. Peter White, and agreed to let us publish the following excerpts. Thanks, Brianna!

From: Osinski, Brianna
Sent: June 7, 2104, 4:20 pm
To: White, Peter S
Subject: Panama, week 1 review

So, wow, Panama! How have I never been here before!?!? It is so verdant and life is brimming everywhere you look. My alarm clock here consists of a chorus of green parrots that roost outside my window and the occasional trio of tamarind monkeys. Then there are the agouti that just stroll through the backyard eating our mangoes and the iguanas zipping about around them. I think so far I’m most captivated by the leaf-cutter ants. Their sheer numbers are amazing and their industrious nature is simply admirable. Also, the trees here are breathtaking. I just keep stopping to gape at all the buttress roots and staring up into the canopy trying to take in the enormity of the nature surrounding me.Brianna trees

The scientific community here is wonderful, too. I’ve yet to meet an unkind soul and the best part is that everyone here is in love with what they’re studying. So, when I ask questions, a LOT of questions, I’m met with excitement and joy, because they want to talk about what they’re studying just as much as I want to hear about it. We had our first “frog talk” yesterday, which is when all the people here studying frogs gets together and present their research, and it was heavenly! I’ve found my niche, and it is amongst biologists.

Our research with the Tungara frogs is going well. We start at 7:30 pm and collect pairs for about 2 hours at various sites. Then we take them back to the lab, run the females through some phonotaxis tests in our sound chamber to observe their mate preference, we weigh/measure/and toe clip them (toe clipping took some getting used to :/), and last but not least we put them back where we found them before the sun comes up. Ideally, we’re done by 3:30 am, but some nights, like last night, run long and we were working till 6:30. But, since I love what I’m doing, it’s really not so bad when it goes late. If I had infinite energy levels and didn’t require that whole sleep thing, I’d do research all day long.

Week Two in review.

Week 3 was as grand as could be!

Animals galore during week 4!

Great to be alive during week 5!

Rhyming week 6 has me in a fix!

Note: If you are interested in learning more about Brianna’s research or about STRI itself, please feel free to contact Brianna: bosinski@live.unc.edu.

SMART Program Alumna Spotlight

written by Lauren Askew B.S. Biology 2016

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

When I started my first year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill, undergraduate research or a research-related career had never crossed my mind. However, once I decided that I wanted to go to medical school my focus changed. I quickly discovered that it would be helpful to have some lab experience, so I found a research opportunity in Dr. Mara Duncan’s cell biology lab. As I gained more skills and summer approached, Dr. Duncan suggested that I apply for the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track (SMART) summer research program. I was accepted into the 8-week program. I remember being both nervous and excited. Each week I spent about 40 hours in the lab and attended 3 meetings: lab meeting, a larger lab meeting with other labs, and a program meeting. I gave two presentations weekly and thus gained confidence in presenting scientific data. The first few weeks of the program were difficult because I was afraid to ask questions. I feared that lab members would think poorly of me. One day a graduate student took me under his wing and encouraged me to ask questions about my project and the projects of other lab members. I acted on the graduate student’s advice and my overall performance in the lab lead to an opportunity to do independent research my sophomore year.

Lauren

LB+ Ampicillin bacterial plate with DamLmnB transformed colonies.

I did research on autophagy in yeast and how it can be initiated during the summer and the following school year. Early in the school year though, I transitioned to a biochemistry lab, and gained a new prospective on the work that I had previously conducted.

During the summer, working in a lab every day was straightforward. Research was my sole responsibility. I found during the school year that conducting research was far more difficult. Expectations were higher and time management was crucial when working with longer experiments. And then there was school work, and other obligations. By the end of my sophomore year, I better understood my capacity, stopped spreading myself so thin, and could better schedule experiments and extracurricular activities.

Lauren Askew before her journal club meeting during her Summer Internship Program (SIP) and John's Hopkins.

Lauren Askew during her Summer Internship Program (SIP) at John’s Hopkins.

Currently, I am doing research at Johns Hopkins for 10 weeks through their Summer Internship Program (SIP). My research is on Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes delayed developmental growth and is characterized by premature rapid aging of the face in early childhood. The goal of my project is to find novel interactions between Zmpste24, a gene that codes for a post-translational enzyme, and other regulatory proteins proven to be involved in premature aging syndromes. The research involves working with mammalian cells and performing a lot of cloning, both of which are new to me.

Getting involved in research has changed my career plans significantly. Instead of pursuing the M.D. path, I plan to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree in infectious diseases. Although it is possible to do research as an M.D., I want to gain the research skills provided by a doctoral degree to reach my maximum potential as a medical researcher. My research experiences have also made me more interested in academia in the future. I had amazing mentors, who have constantly encouraged me and helped me strive towards excellence. Using the mentoring techniques I gained from my mentors, I have been able to help fellow students in their research projects. I find joy in sharing my knowledge with others and would definitely like to make mentoring others a part of my career.divider

“When One Teaches, Two Learn”

written by Rob Uche Onyenwoke

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

My career in the sciences began at the University of Georgia in Athens, where I received a B.S. in Biology and conducted an honors thesis involving an evolutionary analysis of microbial tRNAs (transfer RNAs). From working on my senior thesis with my mentor Prof. William B. Whitman, I garnered an interest in microbiology and decided to stay on and pursue a Ph.D. I focused my studies in the areas of performing biochemical and microbial analyses of oxidoreductase enzymes and microbial metabolism and performing microscopy. One of my fondest memories of this time was due to my mentor, Prof. Juergen Wiegel, who helped me through the trying time of completing my Ph.D dissertation. Prof. Wiegel was the epitome of a great mentor and working with him led me to serve as an instructor of microbiology and later a teaching fellow during the final year of my Ph.D. work.

While completing my Ph.D., I spent a significant amount of my time as a researcher and teacher, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in my respective departments. Having had a fantastic mentor, like Prof. Wiegel, I was eager to guide and counsel younger researchers through their journey. Based upon my own experiences, I learned to view mentoring as very important work.

I accepted a post-doctorate fellowship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, after completing my teaching fellowship and Ph.D. work. UNC gave me the opportunity to work with Prof. Jay Brenman in the Neuroscience Center and Lineberger Cancer Center studying and identifying novel metabolic targets involved in the progression of diabetes and cancer/neuroblastoma. Soon I began developing my own areas of research and went on to further characterize a calcium channel intimately involved with metabolic disease using high-content imaging.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype. Images from: Swick, L. , & Kazgan, N. , & Onyenwoke, R. U., & Brenman, J. E. (2013). Isolation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) alleles required for neuronal maintenance in Drosophila melanogaster.. Biology Open, 1321-1323.

Dr. Brenman on occasion also served as a faculty mentor to a program offered at UNC called the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track program (SMART). I participated as a mentor. The SMART program paired undergraduates with mentors. Students were expected to commit a minimum of 30 hours a week during the summer to complete a research project. Thanh Bui (B.A. Chemistry ’14) was my mentee last summer. I helped her navigate the ins and outs of the lab in order to complete her project examining the relationship between the enzyme AMPK, gene TRPML1, and the target of rapamycin complex 1 (TORC1) pathway. I am proud to say that we have plans to include her work in a revised manuscript to be submitted to the journal Science Signaling. Bui will begin her graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Pharmacy in the fall.

Dr. Rob Uche Onyenwoke is an independent Principal Investigator with the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE), a part of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham as a Research Assistant Professor/Core Facility Manager. NCCU’s BRITE is primarily a training institute and seeks to mentor and train the next generation of scientists.divider

The Methods of your Research Madness

written by Daijha J. Copeland

OUR - Graham Memorial

OUR – Graham Memorial

This past spring, the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR) petitioned the University’s Education Policy Committee to request a course expansion for its Carolina Research Scholar Program (CRSP). The expansion includes UNC research methods courses, which are courses that teach the techniques and tools that scholars use to ask and pursue research questions. Students new to research can take courses to learn the methods involved in asking questions within their discipline, and students already involved in research have an avenue to better tailor the tools used to conduct their own original projects.

Dr. Krista Perreira, OUR Director and Associate Dean said, “For many disciplines or majors, students must learn fundamental research methods or techniques to pursue more intensive research activities.  We wanted to provide Carolina Research Scholars with the opportunity to receive recognition for developing their skills in research techniques appropriate for their discipline.  Though some courses may be listed as both research-intensive courses and research methods courses, we anticipate that this change will expand the number of course options available to students who want to become research scholars.”

from: Communication Currents vol. 7 issue 4

from: Communication Currents vol. 7 issue 4

As early as June 2014, UNC-Chapel Hill students pursuing the Carolina Research Scholar designation will have more choices for meeting the program’s course requirements, which previously included completing one multidisciplinary course, at least two research-intensive courses, and presenting one’s research to a public audience. The expansion means that students can now pair a methods course with a research-intensive course to meet the requirements listed on the CRSP page.

Students can now begin receiving credit for methods courses such as CLAR 411: Archaeology Field Methods, AMST 202: Approaches to American Studies, and BIOL 452: Mathematical and Computational Models in Biology.  For a full list of research methods courses check-out the database of research methods courses.  Keep a look out for the addition of more research methods courses in the fall.

CRSP was developed to enable students to pursue individual research tracks within a curriculum, build an undergraduate community based on research, and then for students to receive formal acknowledgement. Currently there are over 1300 registrants pursuing the CRS designation and 245 students have received the designation as of January 2014.  Carolina Research Scholars have gone on to participate UNC’s research community by serving as peer advisors offering support to students preparing research proposals; student representatives introducing UNC research opportunities through their own experiences to new students at Orientation; and as student government representatives developing specific programs to promote and support undergraduate research.  Learn how you can become a part of this influential community by visiting the CRSP page. divider

Irish Flute-ing

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

written by Kieran McCarthy Fell class of 2013

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

As a flute performance major, I am passionate about participating in and hearing music from around the world. One of the most gratifying aspects of musical performances is creating a bridge of communication between people of different cultures. Though most of my training and studies have been in the classical settings of symphonies, wind ensembles, and orchestra pits, I am always eager to absorb musical influences from new sources, like my recent experience with the indigenous music of Ireland.

This past summer, I received funding for a research proposal that allowed me to visit a few regions in Ireland to hear a variety of performances in Irish settings such as local public houses and community centers.  There were also festivals to attend throughout the year, like the Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan at the University of Limerick, which encourages the preservation of heritage. By interacting with the musicians in these environments, I hoped to discover whether or not inflection, embellishment, and dramatic interpretation of traditional (trad) tunes vary from region to region, as dialects do, and what Irish flute technique and interpretation has in common with classical performance.

Through my training and practicing I learned that the most integral aspects of Irish trad music are: (1) understanding the specific time signature end feel of each tune type; the steady, fast 4-4 drive of the reel, the quick 6-8 lit of the jig, and the bouncy hornpipe, and (2) learning the unique ornamentations and including them in tunes spontaneously throughout a session. In traveling to several counties in Ireland, I learned that musical differences between regions have more to do with the types of tunes played than the embellishments used. Reels, Jigs, and hornpipes are frequently heard in most places, but in counties like Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, the most common types of tunes are slides and polkas.  Regarding ornamentations, the basic types are consistent between regions, yet vary from player to player as part of the musician’s individual style.  Because of the impromptu nature of trad music, the selected ornamentations that are added are different every time a tune is played.

Reel Tune

Jig Tune

Hornpipe Tune

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

Due to the variety of differences in playing techniques, my research did not result in a concrete way to link classical and traditional flute playing.  However, my time immersed in trad music and Irish culture made me fully aware of how powerful music is, despite its apparent simplicity.  The intuition and originality of each individual musician produced a vital, sparkling, almost tangible music characterized by a sense of joy and abandon in the quick tunes that contrasts with the achingly, compelling depth of the slow airs.

Irish music is not tied to the classical concert hall, but is deeply intertwined with daily life in close-knit communities.  Trad tunes and instrumental accompaniment for dancing, singing, and storytelling have been passed down through generations in homes, community centers, churches, public houses, and festivals.  It was through these public sessions that I truly allowed myself to become swept up in trad music.  The height of my learning of trad music came during the annual Fleadh Nua (“new festival”). The Fleadh Nua helped me understand that taking advantage of every chance to play for someone else, whether in a session or at a competition, is even more integral to learning trad than taking frequent lessons or practicing alone.  Soon I could say that I am a real trad player.

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

                    

Kieran McCarthy-Fell is currently a programming and productions intern at the Irish Arts Center, in New York City.

McCarthy-Fell received partial funding through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) offered through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office for Undergraduate Research, the 2013 Witten Travel Award, the Class of 1938 Fellowship Endowment committee, and the Chapel Hill Music Department Mayo Award.

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