CSU, Chico News

Chemistry, Physics Students Solve Science Problems at Summer Institute

Date: None

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

Three local high school students, 11 faculty mentors also participating

Trading sunglasses for safety glasses and tank tops for lab coats, 17 undergraduate students are spending their summers developing solutions to real-world science problems at the 2015 Chemistry Summer Research Institute (CSRI) at California State University, Chico.

Working both individually and in teams, the students conduct experiments, record results and analyze strategies for future research during the 10-week program, which began June 1. Their projects range in size and scope—from improving solar cell efficiency and slowing cancer cell growth to analyzing ancient bones and the bittering compounds in brewing hops. The program includes 11 faculty mentors and three local high school student participants.

The majority of the students will present their findings at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in San Diego in March 2016.

This year, for the first time, a Physics Summer Research Institute (PSRI) is being held alongside its chemistry counterpart. Physics undergraduate student Brandon Thacker is developing a lab apparatus to help study chaotic behavior in mechanical systems.

“Over the years, CSRI has provided an unparalleled experience for nearly 100 undergraduate and high school students,” said Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Chair Randy Miller. “During the summer, these student researchers make significant contributions to scientific knowledge and to real-world societal problems. This experience is a launching board for their future careers in science, medicine and industry. This unique opportunity is a collective effort of faculty, staff, students and many, many supporters.”

Started in 2004 by chemistry professor David Ball, the program receives funding from alumni donors, industry partners, external grant agencies, other private gifts and CSU grants. Students receive a $3,500 stipend, which covers 10 weeks of research and the trip to San Diego in the spring.

Following are brief descriptions of the chemistry research projects:

  • Ashley Law, Linda Lee, Annie Valceschini and Black Bewley are researching innovative ways to transform glycerol, a byproduct of biodiesel production, into a more useful material.
  • Joshua Gladfelder, William French and Ellen Sampson are working to inhibit the activity of several proteins upon which cancer cells heavily rely (GRB2 and GRB7).
  • Eugene Juette is working to improve the efficiency of solar cells that are based on quantum dots nanomaterial (rather than conventional silicon) in hopes of bringing a new generation of solar cells to commercial viability.
  • Lindsey Rubottom and Tabitha Schempp are synthesizing the byproducts of the degradation of herbicides and pesticides to support researchers at UC Davis in their study of those materials in California rice fields.
  • Chico High School student Caitlin Johnson is working to isolate, identify and quantify the essential oils found in Hawaiian sandalwood.
  • Anthropology undergraduate Alina Tichinin and Chico High School student Mikaela Hassenzahl are analyzing the chemistry of ancient skeletons to reconstruct the diet among hunter-gatherer populations in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • Lindsay Quigley, Michael Smith and Sisarie Sherry are synthesizing complexes useful for electronic sensitizers and molecular wires.
  • Pleasant Valley High School senior Daytona Pipkin is studying how certain bacteria degrade the bioplastic PHB, an environmentally promising alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics.
  • Ami Rose is studying the stability of bittering compounds in stored hops used for beer brewing. She is hoping to learn why some varieties degrade faster than others to assist brewers in their production and storage processes.

CSRI and PRSI continue through Aug. 13. For more information about the institutes, please contact Miller at 530-898-5259 or Department of Physics Chair Xueli Zou at 530-898-3418.


Caption: Sisarie Sherry and Michael Smith (left to right) carefully measure a sample during the 2015 Chemistry Summer Research Institute. Both are chemistry undergraduates at CSU, Chico. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)