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Chemistry Summer Program Awarded NSF Grant

Professor Michael Best (left), Professor Shawn Campagna (right)

Professor Michael Best (left), Professor Shawn Campagna (right)

UT Chemistry Department has been offering critical research and professional development skills to undergraduate students through its summer program for more than 10 years. This year the program was awarded a three-year-grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is officially recognized as a site for Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU).

Chemistry professors Michael Best and Shawn Campagna are the two principal investigators of the NSF proposal. “Our REU summer program is designed to provide participating students with the skills necessary to be successful in graduate school, which are very different than those that are required for undergraduate studies.” Best said, “Students participate in a cutting-edge research project and develop laboratory skills, improve their ability to communicate their research project and results, and learn about the different career opportunities that are available pertaining to chemical research.”

REU at UT Chemistry is a 10-week program during which the students work with a research group and are mentored by faculty members inside the Department through research projects and interactive workshops. Student participants will receive $5,000 stipend and free housing on campus. Workshops include weekly seminars, safety, ethics training and resume, career preparation training. This year’s program also included site visits to Oak Ridge National Lab and Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, TN.

“NSF funding allows us to significantly expand the program, both in terms of the number of students that we can accommodate as well as the scope of programs and workshops that we can offer participating students.” said Campagna.

Besides expansion of the program, UT Chemistry REU also partnered up with Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (TLSAMP) to reach out to first-generation college students and students from underrepresented groups.

Application to the program was open to all undergraduate students throughout the United States. Through a competitive selection process, 9 students were admitted into this year’s program.

“I have learned a variety of things from participating in this year’s summer research program thus far. It has changed my entire outlook and attitude toward chemistry and science as a whole.” said Gabriel Webber from the Alabama State University.

Another participant Jessica Ellett from the University of North Georgia felt the same way. “I thought I knew a pretty decent amount when I first came here, but I have learned so much more, about the graduate work, what it’s like to be in a professional lab, and the expectations of required of professional scientists.” said Ellett. “It has been a wonderful experience, one that I know will help me greatly in the days to come.”

An important aspect of this year’s program is the addition of a science journalism student, Dylan Platz, who rotates among the labs, shadowing REU participants, participating in research, and preparing written articles about participants and the program. “As the REU Science Writer, I’m allowed to be in every lab–getting a first-hand look at every student’s research.” Platz said, “It’s an extremely fun time seeing how different kinds of labs are run and how the research is conducted. The REU experience has been great all summer and I expect it to finish up strong.”

Application to next year’s program will open this October on UT Chemistry REU web site.