New program to offer undergraduates training in chemistry, nanoscience research

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $312,309 grant to VCU to provide a summer research ...
The National Science Foundation has awarded a $312,309 grant to VCU to provide a summer research experience for undergraduates in chemistry and chemical engineering. (Getty Images)

Eight undergraduate students will receive training in nanoscience and chemical biology research at Virginia Commonwealth University each summer over the next three years as part of a new program funded by the National Science Foundation.

“Through this program, students will be exposed to cutting-edge research techniques, instrumentation and data analysis methods typically not provided in undergraduate labs, thereby increasing [their] awareness about chemistry research and the likelihood that they will enroll in graduate-level training in chemistry or [obtain] successful careers in chemical industry,” said Indika U. Arachchige, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Arachchige will lead the program with Suzanne Ruder, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Chemistry. 

The Practices and Perspectives in Nanoscience and Chemical Biology program will provide students with an experience that combines practical training in specific research techniques with activities that put the research into the context of larger goals of modern science and technology in nanoscience and chemical biology.

It also will provide training in professionalism, ethics and career planning throughout the summer with weekly lunch meetings, seminars and workshops. Participants will have an opportunity to tour a local pharmaceutical facility and participate in mock interviews and panel discussions with industrial scientists, introducing them to different aspects of real-world positions in the chemistry profession.

The program was awarded a $312,309 grant this week from the Division of Chemistry in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate of the National Science Foundation.

The aim is to attract students from VCU as well as from regional colleges where undergraduate research opportunities are less available. Additionally, the program will target women and minority students.

A broad goal of the program is that participants from historically underrepresented populations will gain the opportunity to learn nanoscience and chemical biology concepts and take the knowledge back to their institutions, while promoting a diverse scientific workforce.

The VCU program will be part of the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program that supports participation by undergraduate students in research areas funded by the National Science Foundation.

Participants will undertake research projects involving chemical synthesis, data analysis, computer modeling and more.

The VCU program will run from May 28 to Aug. 9, beginning this year, and continue through summer 2021. Participants will receive a $5,000 stipend and the program will pay housing and other fees. It also will pay for five students to attend national or regional American Chemistry Society conferences to present their Research Experiences for Undergraduates projects.

The program will expose the students to the fundamentals of highly interdisciplinary nanoscience and chemical biology concepts through firsthand experience of conducting research, providing them a unique training and specific technical expertise not generally obtained in undergraduate labs.

“As a research faculty, I am very excited about the opportunity to teach students about nanoscience and chemical biology research and have them excited about enormous opportunities in both disciplines,” Arachchige said.

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