Undergraduate Research Provides Rich Experiences

Student translates original 19th century manuscript to support research in mathematics
Whitney White at Linda Hall Library

Whitney White, B.S. mathematics and physics, was excited to find that a historical document that she needed for her undergraduate research was available in its original form at the Linda Hall Library. She was undaunted by the fact that it had never been translated from its original French, even though she did not speak the language.

“I was floored to hold that history in my hands,” White said of the document, which was created in 1831. “And I was over the moon to learn that no translation existed. The history is incredible and being the first person to translate it makes me feel like I have a small part in this history as well.”

Mathematics and physics are White’s passion, and the Divergence Theorem is used in both.  Translating the theorem in an unfamiliar language was daunting, but she was undeterred. One of her professors provided a paper that translated common French mathematical terms into English.

White with document at Linda Hall Library

“I did not want to misrepresent the original work, so I had to be meticulous and accurate,” White said.  “But after completing the translation and connecting the original and modern proofs of the Divergence Theorem, I now better understand it. This more in-depth understanding of the logic of the proof is the greatest personal benefit of completing this project.”

Henrietta Rix Wood, Ph. D., associate teaching professor at the Honors College, notes that this is why undergraduate research is important.

“Undergraduate research is a fun and rewarding way for students to develop important skills, such as posing questions and figuring out how to answer them, testing ideas and applying theories, and sharing their findings.”
Henrietta Rix Wood, Ph. D.

She also believes these skills extend beyond the university setting.

“As students contribute to scholarly conversations, they practice the important life skills of problem solving and persevering when things do not go as planned.”

White’s research was published in the latest issue of Lucerna, UMKC’s annual interdisciplinary journal of undergraduate research. Students are welcome to submit research papers written anytime during their academic careers at UMKC. 

Research close up

White says that students interested in being published in Lucerna should pick a novel topic that interests them.

“It‘s important to start your work early, compose multiple drafts and ask for help in tearing them apart,” White says. “If you care about your research, it will show.”

 Wood, who is the current Lucerna faculty advisor, encourages students to submit their research.

“This process also is about the thrill of discovery, which Whitney felt when she learned that Linda Hall Library had a historical document that was crucial to her project. I think undergraduate research truly enhances a student’s learning experience.”

For further information, please visit https://honors.umkc.edu/get-involved/lucerna/

Published: Apr 1, 2019

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