By Christianna Lewis
Kayla Pyper knows explosions in the microwave are always messy. But when the microwave is splattered with chemical reactants heated to 375 F, cleanup is even trickier.
After a couple of eruptions at the beginning of their experiments with the microwave chemical reactor, undergraduate chemical researchers learned to monitor the reaction pressure with care, said Pyper, senior chemistry major from Chesterfield, Mich.
“There’s always stuff that can go wrong.” Pyper said.
Pyper is one of three chemistry students working under Dr. Gregory Powell, professor of chemistry, to use microwave technology to increase the speed and productivity of chemical reactions. Powell said he wants to encourage more students to get involved in undergraduate research through his involvement in planning ACU’s second annual Undergraduate Research Festival.
Students from every department will be able to present their work on a display board or in a 12-minute presentation, Powell said. The posters will be displayed and judged in the Learning Commons April 7-9. Undergraduates will give their speeches April 12 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Hunter Welcome Center.
The first, second and third place winners of both categories will be awarded $150, $100 and $50 respectively at a banquet after the oral presentations. Dr. Kevin Gardner, a professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, will close the evening with a speech geared toward a general audience about advances in biophysics.
Presentation proposals must be submitted by Feb. 15. While most of the projects have already been completed, Dr. Powell said it isn’t too late for a student to approach a professor about conducting research. He hopes 100 students will present at the festival, in contrast to last year’s 65.
Marc Mace, senior mathematics major from Keller, said he was happy to see the diversity of experiments when he presented research at last year’s festival.
“The great thing about the festival is it doesn’t always deal with science, but also with psychology, sociology and other areas that you don’t necessarily associate with research,” Mace said.
The festival highlights the significant discoveries made by undergraduates every year.
Powell’s team also opened new possibilities in the field of chemical and pharmaceutical production. The undergraduates have increased the yield of multiple reactions by as much as 70 percent over previous experiments. Their work has made feasible the production of a potential cancer therapy chemical.
After receiving first place at a statewide chemistry conference last fall for this research, Yoon Jung, junior biochemistry major from Busan, South Korea, said the research opportunities at ACU give it a competitive edge against larger state schools.
“Undergraduate research really helps our school to be one of the best schools in Texas,” Jung said.
The prospect of undergraduate research was why Pyper decided to transfer to ACU. But, while she loves creating new chemicals and improving reaction techniques, she said the real benefit of popping osmium carbonyl into a microwave was a personal one.
“It was kind of a test for me to see if research was what I wanted to do with my life,” Pyper said.