Undergraduate Research and Inquiry

Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg Muth (bottom right) and St. Olaf students (clockwise from bottom left) Allison Brandt '13, Magnus Olofsson '13, and Zijie Xia '14 spent a summer researching how algae stores energy — and whether one day it could be used to power the modern world.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg Muth (bottom right) and St. Olaf students (clockwise from bottom left) Allison Brandt ’13, Magnus Olofsson ’13, and Zijie Xia ’14 spent a summer researching how algae stores energy — and whether one day it could be used to power the modern world.

St. Olaf actively promotes student–faculty partnerships that investigate academic topics. In addition to the college’s own Center for Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program, the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and even the National Institute of Justice also support research at the college.

Students participate in projects in all disciplines and in various forms, including a robust 10-week summer research program. Recent undergraduate research at St. Olaf includes new forensic analysis of clothing fibers, studying the diets of trout in a local stream, looking at how theological assumptions shaped the emergence of scientific thought, and investigating the possibility of turning algae into diesel fuel.

Such experiences are designed to enrich students’ skills in investigating open-ended questions with unknown results. Students learn what it means to be a practicing scholar in the field of their interest, and the experience prepares them for success in graduate school and future employment.

Student–faculty research also results in faculty members enhancing their teaching and contributions to society.

Expanding student research opportunities is a key goal of St. Olaf’s strategic plan. These experiences are a high-impact educational practice, and the college is committed to increasing student participation in intensive, original scholarly research and creative activity.