Georgia College students continue to attract attention for their skills, teamwork ability and experience with research. Seven physics, chemistry and mathematics students have secured REUs (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) through the National Science Foundation (NSF). They'll work on diverse and far-reaching research this summer.
“Our students are highly successful at winning REU awards,” said Kenneth McGill, chair of chemistry, physics and astronomy. “This is, in part, due to the high focus we put on undergraduate research.”
REUs generally last about 10 weeks. They give students the opportunity to learn good work ethics and research techniques, using state-of-the-art equipment at other universities. They work with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as post-doctoral researchers. They also network with professional scientists.
This broadens their perspective and helps students take ownership of their work. They acquire leadership skills and gain confidence.
“REU’s provide students with a terrific opportunity to engage in research in collaboration with other students from around the country and with faculty experts in those research areas,” said Dr. Robert Blumenthal, chair of mathematics.
“That our students are selected for these competitive REU experiences speaks very well for Georgia College,” Blumenthal said, “and for the way in which we are able to engender in our students a love of learning and a passion for exploration.”
Georgia College students are competitive in the REU application process, McGill said, because they’ve already endured demanding research methods on campus. Past students got as much from their REU experience as they put in. In turn, they told others about their involvement and, he said, “this helps to build a reputation with REU institutions for future Georgia College students to be accepted.”
Assistant professor of physics, Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge, agreed. Two students are returning to the same programs other Georgia College students participated in last year.
“This is important to note,” he said, “because it is an indication of the quality of our students and how well they performed last year. This will help us to build a relationship with these universities.”
“Students who participate in these programs not only receive a valuable research experience for themselves,” Mahabaduge said, “but they also act as ambassadors of Georgia College and the programs we offer. They literally put Georgia College on the map.”
Some students have done multiple REUs, like rising senior Cain Gantt of John’s Creek. This will be the third REU for Gantt, who’s double majoring in physics and mathematics. In 2017, he did an REU in Tennessee on “supercomputer clusters.” Last summer, he was in Maryland working on “image reconstruction.”
Gantt has worked with McGill for three years on the Acoustic Flow Meter project. This summer, he heads to the University of Florida’s International REU program in Gravitational Physics, which exposes students to the rigors of research in an international setting. For about 10 weeks, Gantt will work in labs throughout Europe and Australasia.
“I am extremely excited to be doing research abroad,” Gantt said. “Not only is gravitational wave physics an extremely exciting and active field—but it will be my first time in Europe and my first time out of the U.S. for any extended period of time.”
Gantt looks forward to working with Pia Astone at Sapienza Università in Rome, Italy. His project is tentatively called, “All-sky search of continuous gravitational wave signals." He’ll explore a “portion of the source parameter space” with computers. This will involve sending analysis to the Virgo/LIGO data pipeline—a facility in Italy that uses laser beams to detect gravitational waves. They are the same instruments used to detect when two black holes merge into one.
“For example, we can detect how neutron stars, the dense leftovers after some stars die, spin really quickly but slow down ever-so slightly over time,” Gantt said. “That's the kind of thing we're looking for in the LIGO/VIRGO data. This international REU is a great stepping stone for my research career.”
Rising senior James Fortwengler of Milton will do his second REU this summer at the University of Connecticut in Mansfield. Last summer, the double major in chemistry and math participated in a “nano-electrochemistry” REU at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
This summer, Fortwengler will explore desalination of water using graphene, a form of carbon. Normal processes of desalination require a lot of energy. His research will look for more efficient ways to rid water of salt and minerals. Graphene, he said, “is a wonderful material with extreme strength and huge electrical conductivity, but no one has found a good way of producing it.”
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “The research I’ll be doing has huge applications in helping the world. This is an extremely important topic, because about one-in-nine people across the world lack access to clean, affordable water.”
This REU research is similar to what Fortwengler wants to do in life. He hopes to get a master’s and then a Ph.D. in material chemistry, focusing on renewable energy and battery storage. He wants to do developmental research to help the environment.
“Georgia College helped make me a competitive candidate for this opportunity,” Fortwengler said. “The research I was able to do here, as well as the one-on-one mentoring I got from faculty, has been crucial in making me a good candidate.”
Rising senior Samuel “Bo” Cavender of Brooks said his Georgia College research gave him an edge, when applying for an REU. He’s done research with Mahabaduge, building a solar panel that tracked the sun. He also worked with assistant professor of astronomy, Dr. Arash Bodaghee, analyzing the black hole, Cygnus X-1.
A physics major, Cavender will do his REU on “modeling the propagation of forest fires on hills” at the College of Wooster in Ohio. The project involves using computer modeling to see how fires spread, and it uses matches as trees.
He plans to get a masters of physics after graduating next May. Then, he’ll pursue renewable solar energy.
“I’m very thankful that I’ve been given this opportunity, and I am going to try my best to take full advantage of it,” Cavender said. “I think it will give me a good idea of what it’d be like to be a professional researcher for a university, and it’ll help me narrow down what my future career will be.”
Rising senior chemistry major Nicola Bauer of Peachtree City will do an REU at Georgia State University in Atlanta. At Georgia College, she does research with Dr. David Zoetwey, assistant professor of chemistry, involving the reaction of “Monochloramine and 2,6-Dichlorophenol.” These are products that emerge when chlorinating water. At Georgia State University, she'll work to design drugs that target cancer and inflammatory diseases. This research will also delve into chemical education.
Bauer plans to get a master’s in organic or pharmaceutical chemistry and work with a pharmaceutical company to develop behavior-based medicine.
“I feel extremely lucky to be able to spend time working on what I’m passionate about. This will open up many more doors for me,” Bauer said. “Chemical education is important, because it reaches into the community and explores how chemistry can be better understood.”
Kasey Green of Richmond Hill got his first research opportunity as a rising sophomore—an REU at the University of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania. On the application, he emphasized his eagerness, teamwork skills and quick learning ability. The program is called, “Particle-based Functional Materials” and will entail study of minute particles that perform specific functions like “material self-healing, controlled delivery of therapeutics, ‘smart’ catalysis and particle separation.”
It’s higher-level science that Green is excited to begin.
“I believe that I am up to the challenge and can make an impact with this research,” he said. “I am ecstatic for this opportunity. It’s a significant first step in my career and gives me a glance into the field I someday hope to join.”
This REU research can enhance the delivery of medicine into our bodies and impact the way we recycle materials. This knowledge will be helpful in his future, since Green wants to be a biomedical engineer and study the mechanics of medicine. Ultimately, he’d like to be a professor doing research at the university level.
“I am incredibly excited to dive deeper into science that affects the real world,” Green said.
Carine Seudieu of Woodstock is a rising senior majoring in chemistry. A REU at Georgia State University in Atlanta this summer is her first research experience. She’ll be studying Influenza Virus (IFV) proteins and how they recombine into severe infections. Her group will also work on designing an antiviral drug to treat influenza in humans.
“This is important,” Seudieu said, “because Influenza Virus continues to be a major health problem in the world.”
This REU will give Seudieu an idea of the rigors she can expect in graduate school. More will be expected of her, and she’s looking forward to “being able to work independently and tackle certain tasks and research problems that arise.” She’ll learn to ask effective questions and conduct tough experiments.
“Being under the mentorship of scientists, who are devoted solely to research for an entire summer, will help me build the foundation I need to gain essential skills in first-rate research,” Seudieu said.
“I am incredibly thrilled to have been given this chance,” she said, “because it could potentially jumpstart my career as a researcher.”
Senior chemistry major Ann Margaret Irvin of Thomaston worked with Dr. Ronald Okoth’s organic research group throughout college. They create polymers, bonds of small molecules, by opening up chains and adding a catalyst that speeds reaction.
Irvin presented this research at two conferences: the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society and National Conferences on Undergraduate Research. She’s excited to go beyond synthesis—creating polymers—to characterizing them based on neutron and X-ray scattering techniques.
She’ll do this at the Smart Polymer REU at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge this summer.
This 10-week REU delves into “extraction fractionations of silicone polymers,” comparing and contrasting characteristics of each based on molecular weight.
Irvin plans to move on to pharmacy school, so she can continue researching.
“I’m excited to expand my knowledge on polymers,” Irvin said, “and I hope to learn a lot of new technical, laboratory and communication skills. Being able to do undergraduate research is such a rewarding experience, especially because Georgia College is one of the few schools that actually allows undergraduates to do research fulltime.”