August 15, 2020

Summer Science Symposium Showcases Student Research

Temperatures soared yesterday, but Allison Grant was cool and calm as she explained how climate change has disproportionately affected low income neighborhoods that are impacted to a greater degree by heat. “Redlining was outlawed over 50 years ago,” said the UMW senior, citing the discriminatory lending practice that prevented minorities from purchasing homes. “Yet it […]

Janet Asper: In Her Element

Department of Chemistry Chair and Professor Janet Asper

Department of Chemistry Chair and Professor Janet Asper

When Janet Asper took over as chair of UMW’s Department of Chemistry earlier this year, she knew she’d have a big job. What she didn’t expect was the onslaught of emails.

“As a professor, I could catch up on email in 10 minutes,” said Asper, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh and bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and zoology from Ohio University. “Now, it takes me an hour to work through all my correspondence.”

Screen-time has increased for everyone during the pandemic, said Asper, admitting that video games have kept her three children occupied while she navigates her new role and readies herself and her colleagues to teach courses both online and in the classroom this fall.

But for future scientists and educators, hands-on learning is particularly important, Asper said. That’s why she and her fellow faculty members are figuring out ways to maximize opportunities for students to work in the state-of-the-art labs in the recently renovated Jepson Science Center, while still observing social distancing measures.

“We’ve enjoyed discussing which lab skills are the most critical to teach,” she said, “as well as coming up with remote lab activities students can do from their residence halls or homes.”

As UMW prepares to resume classes next month, Asper is looking to the wisdom she received from Professor Emeritus Charlie Sharpless, with whom she worked for over a decade, and Leanna Giancarlo, who served as chair from 2009-2015, and as interim chair before Asper stepped into the role.

“Leanna taught me the value of transparency and overcommunication,” Asper said. “Charlie encouraged me to take time and think things through when responding to important questions.”

 

Chemistry Chair and Professor Janet Asper helps several students during a previous semester. She and her colleagues are coming up with ways for students to do the hands-on learning that is critical to the sciences, while also observing social distancing measures.

Chemistry Chair and Professor Janet Asper helps several students during a previous semester. She and her colleagues are coming up with ways for students to do the hands-on learning that is critical to the sciences, while also observing social distancing measures.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The students, of course! I love when our alumni tell us that the skills we taught them helped them get a job or earn a promotion.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Channeling my enthusiasm and crazy ideas, and making sure I’m listening to everyone involved so I can see the bigger picture.

Q: What do you miss most about being on the Mary Washington campus?
A: I’ve actually been going to UMW once a week to maintain my equipment and work in my office for a few hours. I miss my colleagues, my students and getting to work in the lab with my equipment.

Q: Have there been any silver linings to this COVID cloud?
A: Getting to spend so much time with my family.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: A lot of people do know this, but I’m adopted, and I found my biological family in 2015 when Ohio changed the law allowing adult adoptees to request their original birth certificates.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

 

Charlie Sharpless Bio

Professor Emeritus Charlie Sharpless (back row, second from right) with his colleagues and students. Sharpless retired from UMW earlier this spring.

Professor Emeritus Charlie Sharpless (back row, second from right) with his colleagues and students. Sharpless retired from UMW earlier this spring.

The Department of Chemistry this spring said farewell to former Chair and Professor of Chemistry Charlie Sharpless after 16 years of teaching, student mentoring, research and leadership at Mary Washington.

Sharpless arrived in fall 2004 as an assistant professor, bringing his expertise in environmental photochemistry and a commitment to involving students in research projects.

Over the years he engaged and challenged students to think critically, develop strong study skills and learn independently, Professor of Chemistry Kelli Slunt ’91 said in a faculty tribute. Sharpless implemented changes to the capstone senior seminar course to improve student understanding of chemical literature and help them better present their research topics.

He played a big role in the renovation and expansion of the Jepson Science Center, working with architects to design the chemistry space and also negotiating appropriate space for other science disciplines. In his last few years at UMW, Sharpless not only chaired the Chemistry Department but took on oversight of the Physics Department as well.

“Charlie’s leadership will leave an indelible mark on our department,” Slunt stated.

Sharpless earned a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences at Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Duke University. There he held a postdoctoral position before coming to Mary Washington. – Laura Moyer, editor, University of Mary Washington Magazine

UMW Faculty Teach “Chemistry in the Kitchen”

Join us online for virtual programming from UMW Alumni and UMW’s chemistry faculty

UMW chemistry professors will present “Chemistry in the Kitchen” in three Lunchtime Learning sessions. These sessions will feature chemistry experiments that you can do yourself at home in your kitchen. Watch and enjoy, or conduct your own experiments along with us–we will send a supply list ahead of time so you can join in, if desired.

Each session will focus on a different topic:

Tuesday: Intermolecular Interactions with Dr. Leanna Giancarlo

Wednesday: Polymers with Dr. Kelli Slunt

Thursday: Sustainability with Dr. Janet Asper

Tuesday-Thursday, June 2-4

12:00-1:00 p.m. each day

Online

These experiments are designed for children in fourth-eighth grades, but likely will be entertaining for children outside that range as well.

Join us for one, two, or all three sessions–just pick which you want in the registration form. After you register, you will receive a confirmation email that includes a link to the Zoom sessions. You also will be sent a supply list in advance of the program.

We look forward to seeing you online!

Kelli Slunt: Formula for Success

Kelli Slunt, chemistry professor and inaugural director of UMW's Honors Program. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Kelli Slunt, chemistry professor and inaugural director of UMW’s Honors Program. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

When Kelli Slunt ’91 first came to Mary Washington, she was a biology major who hoped to study medicine. Her plans changed over the years, but she has found a perfect chemistry with the dual roles she now holds at her alma mater. As the inaugural director of UMW’s Honors Program, the chemistry professor helps aspiring doctors – not to mention teachers, lawyers, engineers and more – find seamless pathways to success.

Along with Assistant Director Mara Scanlon and Program Coordinator Amanda Ronay, Slunt works with the admissions office to recruit, select and welcome young scholars whom they will spend the next four years guiding to their goals. She also teaches honors service learning courses – which are open to all students – and plans co-curricular events, field trips and other programs.

First-year Honors students will have a quick immersion into the program – and life at UMW – when City as Text starts next week. The nationally recognized experiential learning initiative, now in its second year at Mary Washington, gives them a chance to explore Fredericksburg and share their observations. This year’s program also will include Campus as Text, and added opportunities for discussion and reflection.

Under Slunt’s direction, the Honors Program has flourished. Alumni are enrolled in medical schools at Penn State, University of Maryland and Eastern Virginia, and in elite graduate programs across the globe. They receive early selection to George Washington University School of Medicine, thanks to an agreement with UMW, and find work at such entities as Dahlgren, the Department of Justice and the American Psychological Association.

“Mary Washington is a place where faculty and students develop strong working and mentoring relationships,” Slunt said. “I appreciated the ability to work one-on-one with a faculty member on a research project when I was an undergraduate. Opportunities like those are why students continue to choose UMW.”

 

Q: When did you become interested in chemistry?
A: I was in a summer research program at UVA while I was a Mary Washington student. The experience working on the synthesis of anticancer drugs was a game-changer for me.

Q: What brought you back to UMW?
A: Raymond Scott, former chemistry chair, brought his students to an undergraduate research poster session at UVA when I was in graduate school. I mentioned I’d like to teach chemistry, and he offered me a visiting faculty position that eventually turned tenure track. I currently split my time between teaching one chemistry lab and lecture per semester, and running the Honors Program.

Q: How has teaching chemistry prepared you to lead the Honors Program?
A: I’ve taught general education courses in which I’ve interacted with a diverse group of students – not just STEM majors – and it renewed my appreciation for the liberal arts.

Q: What’s next for the Honors Program?
A: We just moved to a more central and visible location, next to the bookstore in Lee Hall. We are excited to welcome 102 new Honors Scholars to UMW.

Q: Are you excited about the Jepson Science Center renovation nearing completion?
A: I’m looking forward to having a dedicated lab. During the renovation, I’d have to teach using a cart I brought in weekly.

Q: What’s your favorite thing in your office?
A: A photo of my father-in-law dancing with me at my wedding. He had changed out of his tuxedo into shorts and a T-shirt, but he didn’t want to miss a dance with me.

 

 

Sharpless Receives Distinguished Research Award

Charlie Sharpless had a problem to solve. He was finishing his post-doctoral fellowship and wasn’t quite sure where to go next. He loved teaching and conducting research, but there were few positions at large research universities where he could mix these two elements. But with the University of Mary Washington, he found the perfect chemistry. As a professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, Sharpless combines equal parts teaching, advising and research to make new discoveries in environmental chemistry and educate the next generation of scientists and industry leaders. Now he is being honored with the Distinguished Research Award by the Virginia section of the American Chemical Society at its annual award ceremony in Richmond this evening, on Thursday, March 21. Read more.  

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.