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Students help with faculty research focusing on the environment and alternative energy

BOONE—Ten chemistry majors from North Carolina and Massachusetts colleges and universities participated in a 10-week intensive research program at Appalachian State University this summer designed to provide one-on-one research experience with university faculty.

View larger imageSenior chemistry major Alec Daye, right, talks to Appalachian State University Provost Lori Gonzalez about his summer research experience. Daye was one of 10 students from Appalachian and other universities to participate in a 10-week program funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. (Photo by Marie Freeman)
View larger imageStudents from Appalachian, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Pembroke, Meredith College and Stonehill College in Massachusetts, spent 10 weeks assisting faculty mentors with their science research through the Appalachian Chemistry Research Experience in Energy and the Environment program at Appalachian State University. The students are, seated from left Kaitlin Rzasa (Appalachian), Michelle Kerestes (UNC-P), Catherine Moore (Appalachian) and Kristina Vailonis (Stonehill College). Pictured standing from left are Alec Daye (Appalachian), Acton Pifer (Appalachian), Clark Brackney (UNC), Brittney Mitchell (Meredith College), Michael Link (Appalachian) and Latacha Cauthen (Appalachian). (Photo by Marie Freeman)

The Appalachian Chemistry Research Experience in Energy and the Environment (ACREE) Program drew six students from Appalachian and students from Meredith College, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Pembroke and Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.

The students focused on research dealing with alternative energy and the environment, while working with a tenured faculty member from Appalachian’s Department of Chemistry. Each student received a $5,000 stipend. They also took a special topics course on instrumentation in chemical research. Later this year, the students will attend the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium (SNCURCS) and the Southeast Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (SERMACS).

“This program gives students the opportunity to do research with tenure-track faculty that they might not get to do otherwise, and faculty members get the opportunity to have students who are the cream of the crop, and who are focused and hardworking assist them with their projects for the summer,” said Dr. Libby Puckett, an associate professor in Appalachian’s Department of Chemistry and one of the faculty mentors in the ACREE program. “As an undergraduate department, we depend on these students to assist us on the research we need for publications and grants, an integral part of our tenure process.”

Alec Daye, a senior chemistry major at Appalachian, assisted Dr. Carol Babyak on her research on methods to analyze estrogens in surface water. The hormone, which isn’t filtered by wastewater treatment plants and is discharged into streams or rivers, can cause mutations in fish. Daye focused on using high-performance liquid chromatography and electrospray ionization mass spectrometry to detect estrogen in water samples.

Kaitlin Rzasa, also a senior chemistry major from Appalachian, worked with Puckett on her research to create a sensing system for penicillins using a gene that is responsible for antibiotic resistance.

Other chemistry faculty members who work with the ACREE program are professors Nicole Bennett and Claudia Cartaya-Marin, who are the NSF grant principle investigators, and senior scientists Michael Ramey, Jennifer Cecile, Barkley Sive, Brett Taubman, Eric Allain, Michael Hambourger and Al Schwab.

In addition to working in a lab, Puckett said students gained experience in interdisciplinary problem solving, strengthened their writing and presentation skills and learned how to write grant proposals and resumes – skills they might not get as part of their college courses.

“We often separate teaching from scholarship as an institution, but there is a crossover. It’s important to think that research is an integral part of teaching,” Puckett said. “This experience gives students an outlook of what research is and a toolset that helps them grow as scientists.”