October 19, 2018

Quantum Leap

Benjamin Nguyen tugged at his blue-rimmed goggles and held his breath, a test tube teetering in his hand. A standout student from Valencia High School in Orange County, California, he knows his way around a lab, but after shattering a pair of beakers the day before, he wasn’t taking any chances.

Nguyen was among 20 teenage chemists, top scorers from across the country, to converge on the University of Mary Washington’s Jepson Science Center early this month. Professor of Chemistry Kelli Slunt, long involved with the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, pushed for UMW to host its annual two-week summer training camp, held until this year at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado.

Kelli Slunt keeps a close eye on two up-and-coming chemists inside a state-of-the-art Jepson Science Center lab. om across the country competed to represent the U.S. in July's 48th International Chemistry Olympiad. (Photo by Norm Shafer). UMW Assistant Professor of Chemistry Davis Oldham leads a Friday morning session during the 2016 training camp for the International Chemistry Olympiad. The two-week camp brought 20 of the country's top teen chemists to UMW. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Associate Professor of Chemistry Nicole Crowder uses a model kit to illustrate cubic structure as high school chemists take notes. This summer, UMW became the second-ever venue to host the training camp for the international competition. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Professor Kelli Slunt helps a student during a lab exercise designed to prepare camp members to compete on the international level.  (Photo by Norm Shafer).

“This is huge,” said Slunt, 2016 head camp mentor. “For my colleagues and me, it’s an opportunity to teach and mentor students of the highest academic caliber, future leaders in the scientific community. For UMW, it’s an opportunity to showcase our excellent facilities and dedication to STEM.”

Plucked from high schools in 10 states, from New York to Texas, star chemistry students – seven girls and 13 boys – rose from the ranks, outscoring more than 1,000 peers who sat for the nearly five-hour national exam. Four finalists will go on to represent the United States at next month’s 48th International Chemistry Olympiad in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The summer camp, sponsored by the American Chemistry Society, is loaded with labs, lectures, and exams covering analytical, organic, inorganic, physical, and biological chemistry.

“It’s a very intense program,” said Jacob Sanders, a camp peer mentor and Harvard doctoral student who won silver at the 2005 international competition in Taipei, Taiwan. “They’re basically learning about chemistry and thinking about chemistry every day for two weeks.”

Due to concerns over which country would host this year’s final contest, camp organizers were too late to reserve space, as they normally do, at the USAFA. When UMW came up as an alternate venue, Slunt slammed into high gear, consulting with colleagues, lining up logistics, and pushing fellow faculty members into new territory.

“I’m going to try and not let America down today,” Associate Professor Nicole Crowder joked at the start of a Friday morning lecture on cubic structures.

UMW Assistant Professor Davis Oldham and Associate Professor Charlie Sharpless took turns teaching classes, along with Associate Professor Leanna Giancarlo, who also served as camp coordinator. Fredericksburg-area retired chemist William Wacher and a handful of Mary Washington students pitched in, as well, helping prepare solutions and samples for the chemistry-savvy contenders.

Sending its first team to the global competition in 1984, the U.S. has twice won the International Chemistry Olympiad.

Slunt, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UMW in 1991 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from U.Va. in 1995, also directs Mary Washington’s Honors Program. She fit the organization and orchestration of the camp into her already-crammed schedule, working to squeeze it in between a European Capitals study-abroad trip and her own 25th UMW reunion.

For what the experience gives budding young chemists across the United States, though, she’d do it all again. “It was an honor to be asked to host this event at UMW.”

Kisila and Giancarlo Publish Research

Ben Odhiambo Kisila (Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Leanna Giancarlo (Chemistry) along with their UMW undergraduate research student Taylor Coxon (EES – 16), had their research paper, “The impact of urban expansion and agricultural legacies on trace metal accumulation in fluvial and lacustrine sediments of the lower Chesapeake Bay basin, USA” published in the peer-reviewed international journal Science of the Total Environment.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969716311937

Department of Chemistry Hosts Tech Tour

Student looking at a chemiluminescent reaction, tonic water fluorescence, and title image.

Top left: A student looks at a chemiluminescent reaction. Bottom right: Tonic water fluorescence.

Approximately 40 students and teachers from Chancellor and Courtland High Schools visited the UMW Department of Chemistry on Wednesday Oct. 10, 2014 as part of the Tech Tour sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce’s STEM 16 group.  Associate Professor Leanna Giancarlo and Professor Kelli Slunt introduced the students to background information on fluorescence and forensics. The students toured the chemistry department laboratory spaces and conducted experiments on the fluorescence of household items and on the reaction of luminol with bleach.

The Color of Science

Isabelle Malouf was so into science she wore it to prom. The gown that she made with organza and sequins had a bubble-type skirt that resembled a bacteriophage. A dress and a virus, it was part of the Daring Night Attire – or DNA – collection she created for a high school design class.

The Color of Science

Isabelle Malouf uses zebrafish to do endocrine reception research.

UMW Sophomore Receives Barry Goldwater Honorable Mention

University of Mary Washington sophomore Juliana Laszakovits is the recipient of an honorable mention from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Juliana Laszakovits Her work focuses on understanding how dead plant life, known as dissolved organic matter, and pharmaceuticals and personal care products, known as PPCP’s, degrade. An accurate estimation of how quickly PPCP naturally degrade will provide a better estimate of the actual concentrations of pharmaceuticals entering the environment. During her research process, Laszakovits, a chemistry major, collaborated with research groups from Ohio State University and the University of Connecticut. Charles Sharpless, UMW associate professor of chemistry, will present their research findings at the Gordon Research Conference this summer. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship Program, established by Congress in 1986 to honor longtime Senator Barry Goldwater, is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. It aims to foster and encourage excellence in the STEM disciples and to education and train new generations of U.S. leaders. This year, the Goldwater Foundation awarded 283 scholarships from more than 1,100 STEM students across the country. In addition to the scholarships, the foundation also recognized several students from each state with the honorable mention distinction. Laszakovits, a member of the UMW Honor’s Program, has been named to the Dean’s List. In August, she will attend the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education to present findings on the effectiveness of Peer Assisted Study Sessions at UMW.

UMW Showcases STEM Activities

Small drones buzzed overhead as more than 600 people viewed the latest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the Anderson Center at the University of Mary Washington on March 29 during the third annual  STEM Summit 16. Click to view slideshow. Showcasing the achievements of the region’s students, educators and businesses, the event featured more than 50 booths, including the UMW departments of biology, chemistry, computer science, earth and environmental science, geography, mathematics, physics and the admissions office. Germanna Community College, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren and a variety of regional schools also showcased 3-D printers, experiments and robotics among other STEM-related technologies. Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab and associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University, delivered the keynote address. One of the U.S. Navy’s first female fighter pilots, Cummings discussed drone technologies and human-machine collaboration. The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual event is sponsored by Central Rappahannock Regional Library (FredTech) and Lockheed Martin. A few steps away in the Goolrick pool, five local school teams – from elementary to high school – competed in the regional SeaPerch competition. The SeaPerch program, funded by the Office of Naval Research, is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Teams guided their remote-controlled submersibles through a series of tasks, including navigating an underwater obstacle course and retrieving weights. Teams also presented to a panel of judges about the overall projects. Two teams, both from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity Dahlgren School, won the competition and will go on to a national SeaPerch competition in Mississippi. A different buzz could be heard further down Campus Walk during the 8th Annual UMW High School Calculus Tournament. Six local high school teams, consisting of 23 students, competed in a jeopardy-style competition and used individual buzzers to signal the correct answers. The Paul VI High School team from Fairfax took home the championship title with team members Christina Wulff, Stephanie Ibanez and Stephanie Keener. The Mountain View High School team from Stafford finished second. Thomas Sheehan, also from Paul VI High School, earned the top individual score of the tournament. More than $600 in prizes were awarded to the student winners as well as the schools represented by the top two teams. The event was sponsored by Dynovis.

Lift Off

Olivia Schiermeyer led fifth graders in a countdown as she manned a miniature rocket launcher at the “3…2…1 Lift Off” station. Several covered their ears in anticipation of the blast.

Lift Off

UMW honors students inspire young scientists.

Chemistry Faculty Member Mentors U.S. Team to Strong Performance

US Chemistry Olympiad team with medals

US Chemistry Olympiad team with medals

Kelli M. Slunt, Professor of Chemistry, served as the head mentor for the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad.

The International Chemistry Olympiad is a competition for high school students.  Each participating country can send a team of up to four students to compete in theoretical and practical exams.  This year the U.S. team performed extremely well, earning 2 gold and 2 silver medals at the competition of 73 different countries in Moscow Russia.

More information can be found in articles in Chemical and Engineering News, published by the American Chemical Society:

http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i30/Chemistry-Olympiad-Results.html

http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i25/US-Team-Picked-International-Chemistry.html