When Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicole Crowder attends national conferences, her peers often mistake her University of Mary Washington students for master’s or Ph.D. students.
“They are shocked at the caliber of our undergraduate students,” Crowder said.
Senior Karmel James and junior Eric Johnson, chemistry majors and seasoned conference presenters, are two such students. Both James and Johnson are working with Crowder this semester through UMW’s undergraduate research program.
Their projects aim to reduce carbon dioxide through manipulating various substances. Johnson is exploring “click chemistry,” while James is using a different method.
“It’s about taking something that is viewed as a waste gas and turning it into something useful,” Crowder said.
Research like Johnson and James’ can have large potential implications, from turning carbon dioxide into alternate fuel sources to finding ways to remove the gas from the atmosphere. Both students will present their findings at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in April, marking a milestone in several semesters of research.
Johnson started his project almost two years ago as part of UMW’s annual Summer Science Institute.
“Starting as early as I did really helped,” he said. “Since Mary Washington is a small school, all the professors already know who I am.”
James, who keeps a full schedule during the academic year as a resident assistant, editor of the Battlefield Yearbook and an active member of campus clubs, used the Summer Science Institute to devote 100 percent of her time to her research.
“We tried to set it up more like grad school,” Crowder said of the summer experience, with one-on-one meetings with professors and presentations in front of small groups. “It really is a collaborative effort. They are getting real-life skills.”
This summer, Johnson hopes to attend a summer program at a research university, to give a new perspective on his research when he picks up the project in the fall.
He said his undergraduate research experience at UMW has inspired him to pursue graduate school in chemistry.
For James, the one-on-one work with professors like Crowder will prove invaluable as she graduates in May.
“Research opened my eyes to what chemists really do,” she said. “It tied in all the things we do in class.”