Thank you to many donors—alumni, parents, friends, students, faculty and staff—who contributed $55,650 (unofficial total) to support the Department of Chemistry.
How do we inspire the next generation of researchers that will solve problems of tomorrow? One way is by offering research opportunities, where the thrill of discovery can be experienced, at the earliest stages of education, whether in the classroom or research lab.
An opportunity for research as an undergraduate has long been a hallmark of our chemistry majors. How do we continue that tradition when a pandemic calls a halt to our research for a time and severely limits how many people can be in lab at once?
With the pandemic preventing most undergraduates from in-person research lab work for most of 2020, students and their mentors have gotten creative in keeping alive their passion for engaging with challenging questions.
Manasi Anantpur, an undergraduate from Portland, Oregon, meets remotely with her mentor, Katie Rykaczewski, a 3rd year graduate student with Prof. Corinna Schindler’s organic chemistry group, to prepare for in-person lab work. Over the fall, she had weekly meetings Rykaczewski along with meetings with the other members of the Schindler lab a few times a month. “This obviously made it difficult to perform any actual experiments and study data that way, so instead we would spend time studying current literature in the field, and a wide range of higher-level theoretical concepts,” Manasi explains.“Despite the unconventional nature of these research meetings, I would definitely say that it has strengthened my plan of pursuing a PhD after graduating from U-M.”
Rykaczewski adds, “Last semester we focused a lot just on theory, reading literature, practicing solving mechanisms, etc. Now that we are hopeful Manasi can get some time in the lab towards the end of the semester I am focusing on showing her research skills: interpreting NMR spectra from my personal research, setting up a lab notebook page, reaction design and set up.”
Likewise, Michael Graf, a 3rd year undergraduate from Allen Park, MI, spent much of fall 2020 working remotely with Prof. Matt Soellner designing a drug to combat breast cancer. They hope the compound will stop an important protein in the cell proliferation cycle found to be overexpressed in triple negative breast cancer. Back in the lab this spring, he is now trying to synthesize the compound. Michael’s interest was sparked by the “authentic research experience” version of an organic chemistry lab class, Chem 216, that he took his first year at Michigan with Professors John Wolfe and Soellner. That class led students through the experience of structure based drug design the way a researcher would approach that task.
He explains, "In this course, students were provided with background knowledge of a target protein that is overexpressed in triple negative breast cancer cells and the substrate it interacts with. The instructional team then provided groups of students with a reaction scheme to produce a specific compound they wanted to test for inhibition activity. From here, a team of GSIs and Professor Wolfe led us in a wet lab and helped us synthesize our compounds. During the time in the lab, my peers and I learned several techniques used in organic chemistry synthesis which built off one another and helped us produce the desired product.
At the end of the semester, our compounds were tested against strains of triple negative breast cancer cells to see how effective they were in stopping the cell proliferation cycle. With this data collected, we were instructed to make a poster with our group and present it during a class showcase in the Chemistry building."
He became intrigued with the problem-solving aspect of drug design and sought out a chance to do research with Prof. Soellner.
Another student able to return to the research lab is Hannah Bartels, a junior from Midland, MI, who is part of Prof. Stephen Maldonado’s group. Interested in joining a research lab her second year at U-M, Hannah looked for labs that were researching greener energy solutions. “I found the Maldonado lab that was conducting research involving semiconductors for photovoltaics.”
Now she is researching the deposition of germanium thin films onto insulating substrates using an ec-LPE (electrochemical liquid phase epitaxy) method. The Maldonado group hopes their method will lead to a simpler, greener way to manufacture semiconductors that does not require high temperatures, hazardous gases, and complex apparatus.
Growing up, Hannah was surrounded by many mentors in the chemistry field, including her father and chemistry teacher. She also took advantage of opportunities to explore chemistry through internships and jobs with local chemistry companies. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Great public universities rely on private giving to maintain our excellence. Through research experiences in our labs and our student-led programs for professional development, we are preparing the next generation of teachers and researchers while tackling critical issues facing our world. We are leading quests for cleaner energy, better batteries, greener chemical production, sensitive environmental monitoring, improved biomedical diagnostics and a host of other work that addresses fundamental challenges of national and global importance. We are driving improvements in chemistry teaching and expanding STEM education for persons of all backgrounds.
We are fortunate to have so many people making a commitment to the department on Giving Blueday and all through the year.