There is no better way to learn chemistry than to do chemistry - and there's no better way to do chemistry than to do research. When you're doing research, there is no "answer in the back of the book", your instructor doesn't know the answer, and you can become the expert on your project. Those things you learn in your courses finally begin to really matter as you use them to solve chemical problems. You are also likely to have the opportunity to present your work to peers - either at the Student Research Symposium held annually on campus, or at a professional meeting.
One of the advantages of being at a school like Coe is the opportunity to do research with one of your professors. This can take place during the academic year - as an independent study - or during the summer. And don't wait - you can start your first year at Coe! The best way to decide which route is best for you is to identify an area in which you are interested and talk to that professor about the background and time necessary for a successful project. (Don't be shy - we're always happy to talk about our research interests!) Keep in mind that summer positions at Coe include pay, free housing, and a free course credit. While Coe's Research Experience for Undergraduate site funds students from across the nation to come and do research at Coe, it is also open to Coe students.
Biocement, cDNA libraries, and sea worms were the topics of the day for summer research in 2009. Ann DePriest '13, Doug Levasseur '11, and Sarah Anciaux '11 worked with Professor Maria Dean.
Maria Dean's research involves the study of two sea worm biocements. Phragmatopoma lapidosa (reef building worm) and Pectinaria gouldii (ice cream cone worm) make protective coverings using sand or coral and a biocement produced by the sea worms. Surface studies of the biocements are analyzed by 3-5 students each summer using: Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Raman Spectroscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and Electron Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS). Protein purification methods are used with the ultimate goal to isolate and sequence the cement proteins, and study the protein refolding process that is responsible for the biocement strength and durability. In addition, cDNA libraries have been constructed for both worms. The sequence analysis of the cement proteins is used to study the genes involved in the two worms and to eventually express quantities of the intact proteins for further study. Genetic analyses have yielded several GenBank submissions related to these studies. Funding support for this research has come from McElroy, National Science Foundation REU program, and Coe College.
Professor Steve Singleton's group: Tanja Duehrkop, Kristi Boner, Nicole James, and Beth Curley investigate glasses, fluorescence, and corrosion. Nicole is from Whitman College through Coe's REU program. Beth was a part of the First Year Research Experience (FYRE) that gives incoming 1st year students a jump start in research at Coe.
Steve Singleton's work currently encompasses two main areas in materials research: The electronic structure of glassy materials and the corrosion of glass surfaces. In the first area, Prof. Singleton's group uses several spectroscopies to understand energy absorption, relaxation, and transfer of materials useful in optics applications. The techniques used include UV-Vis, Raman, fluorescence, and laser-induced fluorescence spectroscopies. Most recently, his students (2-4 each summer) have measured energy transfer rates in rare-earth doped lead borate systems. Findings from this research are important for understanding the fate of energy absorbed by these materials. Practical relevance includes producing glasses useful to the laser and photonics industries. In the second area of research, Prof. Singleton's group looks at the chemical modification of glass surfaces. This work entails exposing specially designed glasses to aggressive atomic (fluorine, oxygen, hydrogen) and radical (NO, OH) species. The reactive species are created in a low pressure microwave or D.C. discharge, and the samples are exposed to the effluent of the discharge. The physical and chemical changes to the glass surface are examined with scanning microscopies (SPM, SEM) and optical spectroscopies (Raman, IR). This research is useful for understanding the damage rates and resistance of different materials in corrosive environments with the goal of improving the stability of these materials. Funding support for this research has come from the ACS Petroleum Research Fund, National Science Foundation REU program, and Coe College.
Just back from collecting samples in the field, Adam Becker and Alyssa Qualls rack up water sample data for Professor Marty St. Clair.
Professor St. Clair's research focuses on the fate of agricultural chemicals in the natural environment. With annual support from the City of Cedar Rapids Water Department and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, he and 3-5 students each summer carry out an extensive monitoring program in nine small watersheds of tributaries to the Cedar River. Regular sampling and analysis of these streams has resulted in the development of a unique ten year database for the study of the interaction of land use and precipitation patterns with nutrient concentrations in heavily agricultural watersheds. Students use state-of-the-art field and laboratory instrumentation, including ion chromatography and flow injection analysis obtained with funding from NSF and DOE. Recent publications from this work included a proceedings paper and a technical report. Professor St. Clair's other project focuses on the interaction of pesticides with nano-scale iron oxide particles. This collaborative project with Professor Michelle Scherer of the University of Iowa has been funded by a Nanotechnology Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) grant, on which Professor St. Clair is a co-PI. Along with one student each summer, Professor St. Clair has been studying the catalysis of hydrolysis of organophosphorus pesticides by iron oxides of various compositions and particle sizes.
Professor Scott Stoudt, Caitlin Johnson '10 and REU student Nick Ruhs were all smiles after a summer of organic synthesis.
Research in Scott J. Stoudt's group is focused on the synthesis, structure, and reactivity of hypercoordinate group 14 compounds. Triarylmethyl "propeller" ligands substituted with potential donor groups are being used to prepare several related sequences of hypercoordinate Sn and Ge compounds, and recently a program was initiated to study related trityl acetylenes as potential examples of hypercoordinate carbon species. The goal of this work is to develop a better understanding of the factors that govern the stability and structural preferences of these compounds through a combination of experimental and theoretical tools. Specifically, the main questions being addressed are: (1) What is the O---Sn (Ge/C) distance trend in related sequences of 5-, 6-, and 7-coordinate systems? (2) How does the strength of the O---Sn (Ge/C) interaction change as a function of halogen content and electronegativity? and (3) How do the structural and spectroscopic properties of the Sn and Ge complexes compare with those of the trityl acetylenes? On a regular basis, Dr. Stoudt's research group consists of 2-3 undergraduate students. Funding support for this research has come from the ACS Petroleum Research Fund, Cottrell College Science Award, Research Corporation, National Science Foundation REU program, and Coe College.