After a one-year COVID-19 pandemic-related hiatus, Iowa State University’s annual Research Days event returned March 23-25. More than 200 campus scholars participated, collaborating across disciplines and celebrating institution discoveries in a revamped multi-day, multi-platform, entirely virtual program.

For the first time, the yearly on-campus opportunity for networking and idea-sharing — hosted by the Office of the Vice President for Research — was held completely online out of an ongoing abundance of caution for the health and safety of participants and the entire campus community. Over the course of three days, 220 faculty, research administrators, and graduate students tuned in to familiar event favorites — including 4-minute “Lightning Talk” presentations — and brand-new offerings such as an interdisciplinary seminar focused on diversity in research.

“For more than a century, Iowa State – as one of the nation’s premier land-grant research universities – has been a leader in what the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities defines as public impact research,” said Guru Rao, professor emeritus and chair of the Research Days Steering Committee. “The Research Days 2021 experience speaks to the same values that university researchers have placed on finding bold, innovative solutions to pressing societal problems. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event was able to be a tremendous success thanks to our community’s continued commitment to learning from each other, exchanging ideas, and engaging in the collaborative research initiatives embedded in the very DNA of the university.”

Research Days 2021 kicked off with a keynote address from science comedian Brian Malow, who delivered advice (and humor) to help Iowa State researchers better communicate their findings to the public. Following Malow’s talk, Research Days attendees had the opportunity to listen to Story Collider-inspired presentations from university scholars about their personal experiences in research and scholarship, participate in Grand Challenge-themed networking sessions, and explore an online research poster gallery among other activities.

In years past, the Research Day Posters, Exhibits, and Creative Expression event has been held in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union, where attendees could roam aisles of displays and talk with presenters. While these in-person engagements were not possible at this year’s event, the online research poster gallery, hosted through the iPoster platform, enabled presenters to showcase their work digitally while also presenting attendees an opportunity to engage and interact with both presenters and their poster content via video chat and embedded links.

Because of the new format and increased opportunity for viewing presentations in the virtual format, two new awards were introduced to this year’s Research Days research poster event.  The People’s Choice award category offered attendees the opportunity to vote for their three favorite iPosters. Additionally, a Best Commercialization Potential award, recognizing an emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, was overseen and given out by Iowa State Research Park Chief Relationship Officer Alison Doyle and Iowa State Startup Factory Director Peter Hong.

A total of 29 posters were entered in this year’s competition, and all iPoster award winners received a gift card prize.

2021 iPoster Presentation Award Winners

Best Commercialization Potential: Jessica Brown — Ph.D. Student, Mechanical Engineering
“Breaking the Chains of Conventional Pyrolysis: Thermal Oxo-Degradation of Plastics”


1st Place People’s Choice: Saurabh Aykar —Ph.D. Student, Mechanical Engineering
“Manufacturing of Bio-Compatible Hollow Microvessels Using a Microfluidic Device to Mimic Three-Dimensional Microvascular Tubes In-Vitro”


2nd Place People’s Choice: Imtiajul Alam — Graduate Student, Human Computer Interaction
“A Study of Game-Related Publications Since 2006 and the Changes of Gamification Over Time”


3rd Place People’s Choice: Megan Jones — recent Iowa State graduate (not pictured)
“Coral Colored Coli: Development of a Microbial Color Wheel for Research, STEM Education and Design”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has left many of us wondering how to best showcase scholarly work,” said Vice President for Research Peter Dorhout. “I remain awed by the depth and breadth of the innovative and impactful research at Iowa State, as showcased during this year’s Research Days events. On top of the exceptional research taking place here, there is great enthusiasm for what people are doing. Our students, in particular, are excited by their research challenges and enjoy being able to work on problems that make a difference right now. The innovative and entrepreneurial spirits here are palpable.”