‘Center for Environmental Stewardship’ makes strong start
Four faculty members and eight students spent seven weeks this summer engaged in scientific research, thanks to the “Erskine Center for Environmental Stewardship,” an initiative supported by the Bell Enrichment Fund.
“The students will be presenting their work on and off campus at conferences, and there will be at least one paper submitted for potential peer-reviewed publication,” Professor of Chemistry Dr. Joel Boyd said.
Along with Boyd, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Physics Dr. Tiffany Hayden, Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Al Mina, and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Naoma Nelsen worked with students on summer research.
The students who worked on research projects were Omar AlQuzah, Zach Bowens, Eric Edwards, Justin Glover, Vincent Harris, Adam Hartley, Rebecca Reiter, and Reid Windmiller.
“The science faculty at Erskine do not see a dichotomy between teaching and research,” Boyd wrote in the grant proposal for the Center for Environmental Stewardship. “Rather, we see undergraduate research as an outstanding teaching tool.”
Three of the students who did undergraduate research this summer spoke about their experiences.
Senior Justin Glover of Greenville, who is triple majoring in chemistry, mathematics, and physics, gained some clarity about his career aspirations through the research experience.
His research group worked on the purification of water using titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles and UV light. Normal-size titanium dioxide is safe, but “the harmfulness of the nanoparticle-size TiO2 is unknown,” he said.
“I personally did not work with the biology guys but worked on using the TiO2 more efficiently,” he said, describing the material used for water purification as “a porous PPMA—a clear plastic type material—with TiO2 mixed throughout.”
Justin’s summer research project was the gathering of data to compare two different methods of making the material for water purification. The older method “uses much more TiO2, aerates the TiO2, which is bad for the environment, and, at least in the first few hours of use, releases much more TiO2 into the water” while the newer method “is greener and more efficient.”
Participating in the summer research program “has made me realize that I want to go on to grad school in material science,” Justin said. “I enjoy making things better and seeing the improvement in the material that I am working on.”
Senior chemistry major Vincent Harris, who hopes to go on to pharmacy school, signed up for summer research in order to develop skills, he said. He worked on “solubilities of pharmaceuticals in room temperature ionic liquids.”
Vincent, who is from Vero Beach, Fla., said he learned “much more than just how to conduct research.”
“The most satisfying thing was working really hard and getting good results that you’re able to interpret,” he said. “The most challenging thing was changing the protocol over and over until coming up with one that worked well.”
Vincent said the research he was engaged in this summer “was the first of its kind to be done at Erskine” and he hopes it will be “an ongoing project” since there are a number of applications for the research.
For at least one of the eight Erskine students collaborating on research projects this summer, the seven weeks of work provided a lesson in perseverance. Junior biology major Rebecca Reiter of Anderson, who had no prior research experience, found research to be less like “baking a dessert” and more like “a 5,000-piece puzzle,” and learned that completing such a puzzle requires real commitment.
“I have had to summon the courage to face my mistakes and failures head on as well as the fortitude to find the causes and solutions to the problems,” she wrote in her student blog post, “The Bumfuzzling World of Life in a Lab Coat.”
“Perseverance is a painful lesson to learn, but it is definitely a life lesson that I am sure to utilize for the rest of my life.”
Her weeks of research on the toxic effects of titania nanoparticles on freshwater organisms “had me alternating between complete joy and total misery,” Rebecca said. “There were so many obstacles to overcome, yet the tiniest success of any kind felt like a major victory.”
She credits the members of her team, Zach Bowens and Reid Windmiller, as well as other students in the summer research group, with keeping her “in high spirits both inside and outside the lab.”
Despite her initial uncertainties and a “small aversion to research,” she is thankful for the summer research experience and says it “heightened my passion and love for science.”
As for her major and career, Rebecca concludes, “I definitely believe that I am in the right major and that God will use my passion for something great.”
The Erskine Center for Environmental Stewardship will offer opportunities for more students to engage in scientific research, and they may also learn something about their own capabilities and callings, just as this summer’s participants did.