FLORENCE, S.C. – Francis Marion University chemistry professors LeRoy "Pete" Peterson and Ken Williams and their chemistry students are currently conducting research in the synthesis and characterization of new crystalline materials.
The research is funded through a $270,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Research in Undergraduate Institutions Initiative. Now in its third year at FMU, the program seeks to engage undergraduate students in a cutting-edge chemical research experience.
In collaboration with chemistry professor Hanno zur Loye at the University of South Carolina, Peterson and Williams are helping prepare a diverse group of students for future careers in science and technology. They also hope to discover new solid-state materials that may find useful applications in our technology-driven society. Some of these applications may involve hydrogen storage for use in fuel cells, chemical separations, chemical catalysis, and nonlinear optics.
Students are trained in many aspects of research, from doing the work and analyzing results to publishing and presenting their work. While most of the work is conducted at FMU, they frequently travel to USC to access major research-grade equipment that is not available on the FMU campus.
The students begin the program in the summer, earn a research stipend of $4,000, and are encouraged to continue their work during the academic year. So far, 11 undergraduate students have participated in the project. Each student works on a specific project.
Will Perkins, a senior from Florence who has applied to medical school, said the program gives him an advantage over his peers. "Having gone through this research and having a paper published gives me a competitive edge in applying and getting accepted to medical school," he said.
Williams and Peterson said the benefits of the project reach beyond the classroom.
"This is an excellent project for our students, since it combines many different areas of chemistry, and has great potential for the discovery of new materials," said Williams.
Peterson, a graduate of Florence’s Wilson High School and FMU, agrees. "This research helps allow our chemistry majors to become creative problem-solvers, and affords them the opportunity to apply and extend on what they learn in the classroom," said Peterson. "It also helps me as a chemist stay current in my field, and that kind of thing invigorates my classroom teaching."
The research has already resulted in four student poster presentations and three peer reviewed publications, with more on the way. Peterson will present some of this work on Oct. 27 at the FMU science colloquium.
Peterson and Perkins will also go to Memphis, Tenn., in November to present some of the group’s findings at a regional meeting sponsored by the American Chemical Society.
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