Students Win Prizes in Research-Led Learning Symposium

December 05, 2023

Six undergraduate students supervised by Dr Peng Zhao from the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences, School of Science, won the Second Prize and the Popularity Prize in the 2023 XJTLU Student Research-led Learning Symposium (SRLS) held on November 18, 2023.

The symposium was hosted by the Learning Institute for Future Excellence (LIFE) to support XJTLU students’ exploration and practice of research-led learning. The students shared their experience in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) project, which was titled: "How Do Different Bio-Fertilizers and Crop Rotations Affect Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Rice Fields in Suzhou."

The project aimed to investigate the effects of different bio-fertilizers and crop rotations on the greenhouse gas emissions from rice fields in Suzhou. The project was motivated by the environmental problems caused by the overuse of chemical fertilizers, such as the pollution of local ecosystems and the carbon loss in farmlands. The students wanted to find out whether bio-fertilizers, which contain microorganisms that benefit the growth of plants, could be a good alternative to chemical fertilizers. The project also aligned with the United Nations climate action goal and China’s carbon peak and carbon neutrality goal.

The students conducted field measurements at a collaborative experimental organic farm. They measured the greenhouse gas fluxes of carbon dioxide and methane from the rice fields using a static chamber method. They faced many challenges and difficulties during the field work, such as the scorching summer heat, the motion sickness, and the safety issues. They learned how to plan and arrange group travel, how to cope with the physical and mental stress, and how to work as a team. After the field work, the students processed and analyzed the data using statistical methods and programming languages, which they learned in ENV221, ENV222, and APH003, taught by Dr. Peng Zhao. They discussed the implications and limitations of their findings, and the possible applications of their results to the farm. They also used Bloom’s pyramid to improve their learning outcomes efficiency and skills.

At the SRLS, the students presented their project in front of a panel of judges and an audience of peers and faculty members. They explained their research background, objectives, methods, results, and conclusions in a clear and concise manner. They also answered the questions from the judges and the audience with confidence and accuracy. The judges and the audience were impressed by the students’ professionalism, enthusiasm, and creativity. The students received positive feedback and constructive suggestions for their future research.

Qing Fan (Bioinformatics Y4), the team leader of the SURF project, said: "As the team leader at that time, I contacted the driver in advance and confirmed the boarding location to ensure everyone’s safety during the journey. Additionally, I prepared motion sickness medicine and a list of emergency contacts in case of any accidents. This experience provided me with a valuable opportunity to practice organizing and arranging group travel. For the first time arriving at the farm, though mentally and physically prepared for the exposure to the sun, it would still be defeated by the summer heat of Suzhou in July and August. The constant heat soon made us uncomfortable, even some heat stroke. For everyone’s health, we finally agreed to measure in batches. In pairs, you only need to go to two groups at a time. In this way, not only can we save time but also improve the quality and efficiency of measurement, which also was the embodiment of good teamwork. What impressed me most in ‘Research-Led Learning Symposium’, is the thinking about the problems facing in the future use of research results. If we find problems from the farm, we can finally apply the results back to form a closed loop, which will be a very ideal state. In addition, wonderful speeches from students from different fields also provide a lot of fresh ideas for my future life development and career planning."

Mingjie Chen (Bioinformatics Y4), the team leader of the presentation, said: "I am mainly responsible for data processing and analysis, and in my speech at the symposium, I am mainly responsible for sharing the content and some insights in this aspect. In the lecture, I shared how I processed the raw data of greenhouse gases, including calculation flux, screening data, mapping with R language, and so on. The main methods of nonlinear fitting, two-way ANOVA, multicollinearity test, MANOVA, etc. are also introduced, and some results are briefly explained. Finally, it also introduces how to use Bloom’s pyramid to improve the efficiency in learning, which is also an inspiration. In the face of the judges' questions, I also truthfully answered. On the whole, the day was full of harvest and enrichment, and I also saw many excellent students' speeches. Finally, with our joint efforts, I was honored to win the second prize and the popularity award."

Jingyi Chen (Biostatistics Y3) said: "We come from three different majors, Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Health and Environmental Sciences, and Department of Biostatistics. Even more diverse are our grades, Y2, Y3, and Y4. As a result, the parts we are good at are different. It taught us a lot of things that we wouldn’t learn in class. For example, I major in Biostatistics and have never been to the field for measurement. This SURF allowed me to experience the hard work of measuring data in the field. At the same time, the knowledge about program language learned in class was applied to this project. During the SURF, Dr. Zhao taught us the data processing and safety training. His PhD student Miss Hanyue Zheng gave us the field work guidance."

Dr. Peng Zhao said: "I am delighted and proud that our students have actively participated in this symposium after their completeness of the SURF project. This not only allows for reflection and refinement of their experiences from a scholarly perspective but also broadens their horizons and facilitates the formation of connections with more research and learning partners. This achievement adds a touch of brilliance to their CVs, and I hope it will be beneficial for their future academic applications."

The students were awarded the Second Prize and the Popularity Prize for their outstanding performance and presentation. They expressed their gratitude to their supervisor, Dr. Peng Zhao, and their research assistant, Miss Hanyue Zheng, for their guidance and support throughout the project. They also thanked the LIFE for providing them with the opportunity to participate in the SRLS and to share their research-led learning experience with others. They said that the SRLS was a valuable and enriching experience for them, and that they learned a lot from the other participants as well. They hoped that their project could inspire more students to engage in research-led learning and to contribute to the environmental protection and sustainability.

The students were Mingjie Chen (Bioinformatics Y4), Ziqi Zhao (Environmental Sciences Y2), Yanru Zhang (Environmental Sciences Y4), Jingyi Chen (Biostatistics Y3), Jiajie Shen (Environmental Sciences Y4), and Qing Fan (Bioinformatics Y4).

December 05, 2023