May 27, 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.”

Science Symposium Highlights Student Research

Ryan Barlow spent much of his free time this semester waiting for clear nights. When one finally arrived, he’d haul his equipment – including a telescope, camera, spectrograph, motorized mount and filters – outdoors and set up outside of the Jepson Science Center at the University of Mary Washington to take photos of nebulae and galaxies. Barlow, along with 27 other students, presented his findings at the annual Summer Science Institute Research Symposium on July 23. For many, this was the culmination of many hours of hard work and research, and an opportunity to share the fruits of their labor. More than 20 UMW STEM students came together to present research at the annual Summer Science Institute July 23. Ryan Barlow, middle, explains his research on astrophotography. From left: Ben Kisila, associate professor of earth and environmental science, works with Luci Coleman to conduct research on the Chesapeake Bay. “This is their first taste of what it’s like to be on a research team and to be with other people who are just doing research,” said Deborah Zies, associate professor of biology and co-director of the Summer Science Institute. “It’s a great opportunity for faculty and students to get started on a project and work.” The daylong event is one of the few to bring together biology, chemistry, earth and environmental science, math, computer science and physics students to present their original research projects to faculty, families and peers. Students presented on a wide-range of research, from chemical signals in crayfish interactions to astrophotography to the downfall of antibiotics. “It’s a high-impact learning experience,” said Nicole Crowder, assistant professor of chemistry and co-director of the Summer Science Institute. “I hope that this program exposes students to what it’s really like to be a scientist. Students take the knowledge that they’ve been gaining in the classroom and really apply it.” John Meadows restored a Mach-Zehnder to conduct research on slow light. Ruth Catlett, right, explains her research in parallel computing education. At the end of the symposium, the following students received awards for their research presentations: First-place Oral Presentation: Jerome Mueller, “Developing a Tetra Interpreter,” Faculty Advisor: Ian Finlayson, assistant professor, computer science Second-place Oral Presentation: Amy Jayas, “The Best Dam Project Ever,” Faculty Advisor: Alan B. Griffith, associate professor, biology First-place Poster Presentation: Kevin Speray, “Qualifying the Efficacy of Aeschynomene virginica as an Indicator Species for Sea-Level Rise,” Faculty Advisor: Alan B. Griffith, associate professor, biology Second-place Poster Presentation: Shehan Rajapakse, “Designing the Tetra IDE,” Faculty Advisor: Ian Finlayson, assistant professor, computer science

Nicole Crowder Presents Research and Innovative Pedagogy

K. Nicole Crowder presented an invited talk and a poster at the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting and Symposium in New Orleans, LA.Her invited talk “Tethered catalysts: Self-assembled monolayers of phosphonates as a platform for heterogeneous catalysis,” was presented to a full room in the Inorganic Chemistry Division.  She presented a poster entitled “Back to grad school with IONiC/VIPEr: Collaborative development of primary literature based learning objects in a workshop setting” was presented in the Inorganic Chemistry Division and was selected for presentation at the prestigious SciMix poster session.  Additionally, her research was featured on two posters that were presented by her student collaborators.  Eric Johnson (UMW 2014) presented “Modifying copper surfaces with azide-terminated phosphonic acids: A platform for surface functionalization via click chemistry,” and Karmel James (UMW 2013) presented “Modification of bipyridine ligands for the development of a tethered carbon dioxide reduction catalyst.”

You can view Dr. Crowder’s abstracts at

http://abstracts.acs.org/chem/245nm/program/search.php?search=do&andornot=&query=crowder&otype=presentation&event=all&where=&condition=ANY&%23.x=0&%23.y=0&%23=Go

Nicole Crowder Presents at National Conference

Nicole Crowder, assistant professor of chemistry, presented the results of her research at the 244th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, held in Philadelphia, Penn., August 19 to 23.

Her presentation, in the Inorganic Catalysis session, is entitled “Characterization and Quantitative Determination of Surface Loading of Phosphonate Monolayers on Copper for Electrocatalytic Applications.” These results are part of her larger research project that aims to artificially replicate photosynthesis to use carbon dioxide as a carbon feedstock material.