CSU, Chico News

Chemistry Summer Research Institute Provides Rare Opportunities for Undergraduates

Date: 08-13-2008

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
Randy Miller
Department of Chemistry

The Chemistry Summer Research Institute (CSRI) at California State University, Chico offers a unique program of research opportunity, mentoring and financial support. Begun four years ago at the suggestion of organic chemist David Ball (who has included more than 50 students as co-workers in his research during his tenure at CSU, Chico), CSRI brings professors and students together to educate each other in their separate research problems, methods and results.

There are five research teams made up of 16 students, four professors and scientists from Advanced Light Technologies. Each of the teams is making independent discoveries. All of these researchers and other members of the chemistry and biological sciences departments have been meeting weekly to share the details of their projects, methodology and findings.

The final seminar of this summer’s institute will be held Friday morning, August 15. Student Minh Uyen Huynh will present her research with Professor Dan Edwards on lyngbyatoxin, which is produced by a marine cyanobacteria found in waters off Hawaii that is responsible for causing swimmer’s itch.

CSRI is supported by professors’ own grant money, start-up money they receive from the college and a fourth grant from Roche Palo Alto LLC that helps provide summer stipends of $3,500 for each student researcher.

Other research teams include Erik Wasinger and students Tim Dunn and Chris Lyons, who worked on synthesizing compounds to use in their research at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory last week. Time at the laboratory (one of only six synchrotron radiation labs in the country) must be applied for, and proposals must be of top quality. Wasinger, who did research at SSRL, has been shepherding the students through the process.

Students Garrett Parker, Brandon Fragoso, Kevin Parsons, Allen Mull and Justin Petrovic worked with Brian Pierce, CEO, Advanced Light Technologies (a Chico-based research and development company) on finding a way to apply laser technology to specific cancer cells for treatment.

Students Nina McCulley and Nick Hernandez worked under Professor Ball to make biologically active compounds ranging from gallicynoic acids, compounds with potential use as therapeutic reagents for HIV, to analogs of indolactam V, used to probe enzyme activity.

Nicole Crouse and Erich Bowman worked with Professor Jinsong Zhang to synthesize neolignans, a natural product. The compounds they are attempting to synthesize have potential antibacterial and antiviral properties. Although these neolignans were purified in 2005, they were never synthesized. Crouse and Bowman are collaborating on each phase of the process.

“Although there are many great things about CSRI, including the dialogue, the camaraderie and the shared research experience, the best part of the institute is the opportunities it affords the students,” said Randy Miller, chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Most of these students go on to make presentations at national meetings of the American Chemical Society and other professional organizations. It connects them to the real world of chemistry, and it enhances their credentials for getting into top graduate programs or jobs in the field.”

For more information about CRSI, contact Miller at 530-898-5259.