Spring 2016 BRS Grant Recipients

Courtney Hulce


Major:   Chemistry


Faculty Mentor: Dr. Karin Chumbimuni-Torres


Project title:   Development of an Ion Selective Microsensor for Detecting and monitoring Zinc in Citrus Plants


Project Summary: The primary research objective is to develop and apply an innovative zinc ion-selective microsensor that offers an unprecedented level of specificity and sensitivity required for the rapid detection of zinc ions in the vascular cells of plants.


What is your area of research?


I am currently involved in a Nano-Bioelectrochemistry research group. My current focus is on the characterization and development of chemical sensors for bioanalytical applications.


How did you get started in undergraduate research?


I was very interested in applying the knowledge that I was gaining in the classroom to a “real-life” laboratory environment. I began by searching the Chemistry department website. This led me to the Office of Undergraduate research. I met with a counselor there to get some general information about the process. I learned that it is as easy as finding a research area that may be of interest, contacting the professor that leads the research group, and setting up an interview.


How has (or will) the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you achieve the goals of your research project?


The funding will be used for chemicals and supplies needed to successfully perform the experiments that will lead to the successful completion of the objective.


What are your future academic and professional goals?


I am planning on presenting the current research at Pittcon 2016, a national conference being held in Atlanta, GA., and I look forward to participating in the Showcase of Undergraduate Research in April. As I continue my education in analytical chemistry with a focus on environmental research, I plan to use all the experience and knowledge I have gained for my end goal, to work in the citrus industry.


In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?


I am excited to have the opportunity to work on a project that may have an impact on the scientific community. The opportunity to collaborate and network may lead to work on other environmentally impactful projects. Finally, this experience gives me the opportunity to build the laboratory skills required to be successful as whatever career I choose.


Joseph Sleppy


Major:   Electrical Engineering


Faculty Mentor:   Dr. Jayan Thomas


Project Title: Development of a flexible perovskite solar cells and cable based super capacitors with application to three in one energy generation, storage, and transmission devices


Project Summary: The Burnett Research Scholars grant will be used to fund a project focused on the combination of perovskite solar cells and super capacitors to power electronic devices. This solves a real problem in the energy industry as alternative energy sources are intermittent. By combining a storage device (the super capacitor) to the energy source (the perovskite solar cell) and demonstrating their ability to power electronics, we could begin a new chapter in the alternative energy industry helping them be adopted after commercialization.


What is your area of research?


I am currently researching perovskite solar cells and super capacitors at the Nanotechnology Science Center in Research Park. Perovskite solar cells have received an enormous amount of attention over the last decade due to their ability to replace traditional silicon solar cells. They have become attractive as they feature a theoretically higher maximum efficiency, lower manufacturing cost, and new application such as solar cell window tint and screen covers on consumer electronics. Other than making solar cells transparent and flexible, I am also working to combine the perovskite solar cells with a super capacitor. This will be especially exciting as we will be able to demonstrate the ability to charge the super capacitor through the solar cell which can then discharge the stored energy to power an electronic device. I am also interested in space, astronomy, and theoretical physics.


How did you get started in undergraduate research?


My Physics One for Engineers and Scientists professor, Dr. Tetard, had asked me what I wanted to do in life. I responded by describing my passion for alternative energy sources. She set up an interview for me to meet her colleague at the Nanotechnology Science Center in Research Park, Dr. Jayan Thomas. After spending a semester learning in Dr. Thomas’s lab, I started to assume more responsibilities and taking on my own projects. A year later, I am still with the same group learning how to do more things, run different tests, and understand the technology at a greater depth.


How has (or will) the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you achieve the goals of your research project?


The BRS will help remove financial strain through the Spring 2016 semester which will allow me to further focus on the research project as well as provide a grant for the needed materials that will be used in the project. It is also a great pleasure to be able to participate in the research showcase to share my findings with others.


What are your future academic and professional goals?


Alongside a degree in Electrical Engineering, I plan to get a minor in Technical Entrepreneurship and Nanotechnology, possibly dual major mechanical engineering on the energy route (or a master's degree focused in alternative energy sources), and later hope to purse a Ph.D.


In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?


The greatest thing about being a undergraduate researcher is the ability to explore my interests, questions that I’ve asked are met with elaborate answers, and being able to build my CV at such a young age. Aside from that, I really enjoy the great friendships everyone in the group and love being around cutting edge technology.  


Wesley Newsome


Major:   Chemistry


Faculty Mentor:   Dr. Fernando Uribe-Romo


Project Title: Aniline Containing Framework Materials with Superionic Conduction Capabilities and Strong Dipoles for Lithium-ion Batteries and Carbon Dioxide Sequestration


Project Summary: The purpose of my Burnett Honors College Grant Funded Research Project is to synthesize two new MOFs. These MOFs are synthesized from similar synthetic routes that follow similar steps and diverge about half way though. One MOF focuses on the ability to act as a lithium ion battery cathode material due to its ability to accept two electrons and be reduced. The other MOF will be studied as a dielectric material due to the fact that a strong dipole is present in the species. Thus, by applying an electric field one could store a charge within the MOF.


What is your area of research?


My area of research is in Chemistry with a focus on organic synthesis and framework synthesis. Specifically, I work with metal Organic Frameworks, which are defined as a coordination Polymer with an open framework containing potential voids. I spend most of my time synthesizing the organic linkers for these Metal Organic Frameworks, abbreviated as MOFs. These organic linkers are then connected to metal oxide clusters in a final reaction to synthesize these MOFs.


How did you get started in undergraduate research?


Originally, I got started in undergraduate research under Dr. Belfield, working on squarene dyes used as a contrast dye in MRI and other medical studies. Then, back in the spring of 2015, Dr. Uribe-Romo approached me while in his inorganic chemistry class, with the prospect of lithium ion battery materials. Being interested in batteries and materials sciences, I met with Dr. Romo and discussed the project that he had available. In the summer of 2015 I started work on this project.


How has (or will) the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you achieve the goals of your research project?


This grant will help pay for chemicals and solvents used during the synthesis of the organic linkers and the MOFs themselves.


What are your future academic and professional goals?


My goals are to complete my Bachelor’s degree in chemistry this semester. Beginning in the fall of 2016, I will be working towards completing a PhD chemistry. After completing my PhD in chemistry, I hope to get a job in the industry, but I do not have a preference of where yet.


In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?


The best part about being an undergraduate researcher is creating new structures that may have a significant impact on the battery industry. I have been interested in building things for most of my life, and because of this, my original life plan was to be an engineer. I have also always loved chemistry and thus, as a researcher, I can combine my love for building and fixing, with my love of chemistry by constructing atomic scale frameworks and troubleshooting reactions that do not work. I enjoy working with my hands and the collaboration with other people in the lab results in a good experience.