CSU, Chico News

Students Gain Research Experience at Summer Institute

Date: 07-02-2014

Sarah Langford
Public Affairs
Randy Miller, Chair
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Chemistry students at California State University, Chico are gaining advanced lab skills and solving real-world problems at the Chemistry Summer Research Institute (CSRI).

Each weekday, 10 undergraduates and three high school students work alongside eight faculty members in the third-floor labs of the Physical Sciences Building. Together, the student-faculty teams perform research and experiments in line with the professors’ research goals. Many of the projects have practical applications in the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.

In its 10th year, the 10-week program offers valuable hands-on learning opportunities for students.

“We don’t stand there overseeing them every minute,” said Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Chair Randy Miller, who manages the program. “They’re conducting real research with real applications.”

Research topics are faculty-driven, but student innovation is encouraged. This year, projects include turning the waste stream from biodiesel production into a value-added product; making a biodegradable polymer from beet sugar; and testing metal-based molecules that show promise in slowing bacteria and cancer activities.

Students take ownership of pieces of the research, while faculty guide and evaluate their efforts.

The program was formed in 2004 through the efforts of CSU, Chico chemistry professor David Ball. Over time, it has grown to offer participants a $3,500 stipend to cover 10 week s of fulltime research. The program is funded by a variety of agency grants, industry partnerships and alumni donations.

At the end of the program in August, the students will present their work at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco.

Two students from Chico High School and one from Pleasant Valley High School are participating this year, adding a mentoring component for the CSU, Chico students.

Fourth-year biochemistry major Will Cayler is working on developing a more environmentally friendly reaction for compounds often used in pharmaceuticals. Alongside chemistry professor Chris Nichols, he is testing the results of replacing the toxic solvent DMA with water or ethyl alcohol in the reaction.

Cayler said since joining the program in May, he has gained skills in quantification and accuracy and become a better chemist overall.

“The hands-on experience you don’t usually get at other universities, you get here,” he said.

In the adjacent lab, organic chemistry professor Carolynn Arpin is working with Natalie Holmberg-Douglas, a double major in animal science and biochemistry, on developing a process for inhibiting Grb7. The overactive protein is often found in cancer, and their work could lead to development of a new treatment for the disease.

“Running reactions, trouble shooting, creating new molecules–this is the stuff you would do in a career-level organic or pharmaceutical lab setting,” Arpin said. “They’re not doing everyday chemistry, they’re doing novel stuff. They learn to think on their feet.”

The CRSI runs daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Aug. 8. Learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the CSRI at www.csuchico.edu/chem.