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Project SEED Continues to Share Lab Opportunities, Research Experience at Duquesne

This summer, as Duquesne University continues its initiatives to add diversity in the sciences, seven high school students are participating in Project SEED on campus.

For nine years, the chemistry department of DU's Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences and the American Chemical Society (ACS) have created a network of connections and opportunity for economically disadvantaged high school students that introduce them to careers in science.

Through Project SEED, academically talented students gain paid, hands-on experience conducting chemistry research and experiments with state-of-the-art technology. Students are placed in the lab or field Monday through Friday, eight hours a day, during the eight-week program.

As junior researchers, the students have a Duquesne mentor, participate in education and career counseling, receive stipends for their participation in a research project and compete for $5,000 college scholarships, which past Duquesne program students have succeeded in earning.

The program is supported by the ACS, Duquesne and private funders.

"While some high school students are talented, they might not think that they fit into a career in chemistry," said Dr. Jennifer Aitken, associate professor of chemistry, who initiated Project SEED at Duquesne.

Under Aitken's leadership, the program has grown to be the largest in the region and has been recognized twice with ACS ChemLuminary Awards.

"Not only do these students access the opportunity to learn basic lab procedures and participate in real research, they gain a window to science career options as they complete field trips to local chemical industries through the program," Aitken said.

Two of these students, both from Sto-Rox, will have the opportunity to present their work at the American Chemical Society annual meeting Aug. 19-23 in Philadelphia, along with Project SEED alumni Deja Irvin.

Here are the projects these promising students are tackling:

Haniyyah Wheeler, a junior
Mentor: Dr. Mike Cascio; co-mentor, Drew Davic
Her project: Pigment Extraction and Separation Using Thin Layer Chromatography
She will determine the pigments found in plant leaves. To extract the pigment, Haniyyah explains that, "the leaves were ground using a mortar and pestle with acetone as the extraction solvent."

Aaron Trischler, a junior Mentor: Dr. Tomislav Pintauer; co-mentor, Dr. Kayode Oshin.
Project: Catalyzation of ATRA in Copper Complexes. "...If I work hard enough, I will be able to teach my classmates back home, most of which love chemistry, so I'm looking forward to that."

Dwayne Coleman, a graduating senior
Mentor: Dr. Ellen Gawalt; co-mentor, Kristen Kruszewski.
Project: Stability of Alkanethiols on Gold. "Our ongoing work is to develop stable films of various thiol molecules on the surface of gold with different tail groups," Dwayne said.

Sonny Smarra, a senior
Mentor: Dr. Ralph Wheeler; co-mentor, Scott Boesch
Project: Predicting the pKa's of Molecules When Isolated and When in Proteins
This continuation of a previous project will be presented at the ACS Meeting. Sonny details about his experience with Project SEED on his blog post, saying, "I already feel myself getting swept up in the swing of things; the dedication to the research, the endless tune of fingers tapping against keyboards, heated discussions about subjects so confusing that the general public would assume it was in a different language."

Chelsea Weidaw, a senior
Mentor: Dr. Stephanie Wetzel
Project: Forensic Analysis of Hairs: Identifying Styling Product Residues on Hairs by GC-MS
In this continuation of research from the previous summer, Chelsea is testing hair samples in isopropanol which displayed the best results with the hairsprays. Her goal is "that I accomplish a lot on my project this year and hopefully get some great finishing results," which will be presented at the ACS annual meeting.

Charles Thornton, a junior
Mentor: Dr. Partha Basu; co-mentor, Andrew Adams.
Project: Learning Molecular Biological and Biochemical Techniques in Investigating Periplasmic Nitrate Reductase. He is using different techniques to study molybdenum enzyme reactions and proteins, and enjoying the learning experience. "The first day was very challenging for me because I didn't really understand what I was doing, but after my mentors explained everything to me, I sort of got the hang of it."

Emily Janicki, a junior
Mentor: Kimberly Rosmus; co-mentor, Dr. Jennifer A. Aitken.
Project: Utilizing Scanning Electron Microscopy for Use in High School Chemistry Laboratories. Emily enjoys interacting and learning from her lab group because it "has some of the nicest people in it."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.