This past summer, several University of West Georgia undergraduate chemistry students conducted advanced chemical research, from exploring explosive compounds to fighting cancer.
Although this may sound like a science-fiction premise, the reality is even more interesting. These UWG students were taking part in an innovative learning opportunity provided by the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, REU provides research opportunities for a diverse range of students from across the country. In this program, they leave the comfort of their home institutions to engage in new avenues of research and experimentation. UWG Department of Chemistry Chair Dr. Sharmistha Basu-Dutt sees REU as an experience similar to an internship but in an academic setting.
“REU provides opportunities for the student to improve technical and social skills by learning new instrumentation and new methods, as well as facilitating productive interaction with a group of researchers,” said Dutt.
Two of the participants are Amy Salyards and Dali Davis. Both are senior chemistry majors with an American Chemical Society (ACS) track. The ACS track is a more ambitious program, providing undergraduates with one year of research experience with a faculty adviser and rigorous class courses.
Salyards followed her sister’s footsteps, choosing chemistry as a major. Her REU experience took her to Florida International University near Miami. Her research focused on improving a technique called capillary microextraction of volatiles, a method used to detect trace amounts of volatile chemical compounds.
She prepared for this research with her faculty adviser, Dr. Douglas Stuart, an associate professor of chemistry.
“Salyards is a fantastic student who has a logical and organized mindset with a hard-working attitude,” Stuart said. “She puts in the time, effort and energy to succeed.”
Salyards enjoyed working with the best and brightest of students from across the nation and around the world.
“What really stood out to me was getting a taste of what it would be like to be a chemistry graduate student,” Salyards said. “I enjoyed the lifestyle and being in the lab from morning to night. I absolutely loved it.”
Davis researched at the University of Michigan after recommendations to apply for REU program came from several professors in the College of Science and Mathematics.
“I loved my experience in the REU program,” Davis said. “I learned a great deal from working in a different lab environment, and I made some new connections that will be beneficial when I apply for graduate school.”
Dr. Partha Ray, professor of chemistry, served as Davis’ adviser and helped her apply for the REU program.
“Dali Davis is one of our very best students,” Ray said. “She has been doing research with me for a year on the synthesis of potential anti-cancer drugs. She has proven herself to be a very enthusiastic and capable research student.”
UWG has helped these young chemists stand apart from the crowd, but the effect of personal growth and discovery doesn’t end there. Both Davis and Salyards have decided to attend graduate school, crediting their decisions to the REU program.
“What I learned about graduate school, as well as what I learned about myself, is irreplaceable,” Davis concluded. “Chemistry majors interested in graduate degrees should consider participating in the REU program to gain direct knowledge, experiences and specific skills useful in future research.”