Chemistry Dept. promotes student research

New lab course helps undergrads ‘develop their professional selves’

Student Reed McKinney in the lab

Reed McKinney, in search of new molecules

If you’ve never used a microwave plasma-atomic emission spectrometer before, Catey Costello can show you how.

“It’s specifically designed for trace metal analysis,” the junior Biology and Chemistry major says. “We’ve been compiling our own guide so other students will have an easier time using the instrument themselves.”

Costello and lab partner Erin Mirgon, a senior bio and chem major, are part of a new undergraduate research initiative spearheaded by Assistant Professor Brad Neal of the Department of Chemistry. With university funding and a donation or two, Neal and his colleagues have obtained some sophisticated equipment, including the aforementioned MP-AES, as well as a photospectrometer to measure the concentration of compounds in a sample, and both gas and liquid chromatographs, which can separate and quantify the components of a mixture. The possibilities are bringing classroom lessons to life for a motivated and self-directed group of students.

Neal

Neal

“They’re teaching themselves,” Neal says. “We told them: Learn how the instrument works, learn how to acquire the data, learn how to interpret the data, and tell us an interesting story about what you’ve learned.”

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