Teens conduct research with faculty mentors


When asked what they did this summer, some Akron-area teens will respond with such replies as "performed research on photosynthesis and artificial energy conversion" or "investigated analytical mass spectrometry at The University of Akron."

chemistry lab

Dr. Chrys Wesdemiotis, UA distinguished professor of chemistry (left), and chemistry graduate student Vincenzo Scionti (back) acquaint recent Garfield High School graduate Jasmine Monson with new developments in chemical analysis as part of her Project SEED mentorship at UA.

Recent Garfield High School graduate Jasmine Monson worked side-by-side with Dr. Chrys Wesdemiotis, UA distinguished professor of chemistry, on the latter of the two research endeavors. Their student-mentor partnership is part of the American Chemical Society's (ACS), Akron Section, Project SEED. In all, 10 students from Firestone, Garfield, North and Sandy Valley high schools are assisting the university's renowned polymer, engineering and science faculty with their research.

While the mentorships give students a firsthand experience in laboratory research, it also involves them in discussions on careers in chemistry and on preparing and applying for college admission. Monson's Project SEED experience has inspired her to pursue a degree in chemistry. Also, students participating in the program tour the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. research facilities. All students receive fellowship awards and are eligible to apply for one-year, nonrenewable $5,000 college scholarships.

Participating UA faculty members, in addition to Wesdemiotis, their student research partners and work include:

Project SEED participant receives
Gates Millennium Scholarship

Former Buchtel High School student Mathu Davis, who was paired with UA associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Dr. Edward Evans last year through Project SEED, was one of only 11 students nationwide to win the prestigious scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Mathu worked with my research group on the synthesis of ceramic fibers.  At the beginning of the summer, Mathu told me that he was good with his hands and enjoyed making things. At that time, we had a need for a new fiber synthesis system. Therefore, I had Mathu design and build a new system for making the fibers,” Evans explains. “Before building the system, Mathu had to learn how to find reliable technical information, interpret that information and then apply it to his project.”

Evans adds that Davis, who will soon attend Howard University, displayed motivation, creativity and ingenuity necessary to complete engineering projects. Evans says during the past few years he has been involved in the program, he has mentored Akron Public Schools students who represent qualities similar to those of Davis, qualities that lead to success.

  • Dr. George Newkome, vice president for research and dean of the UA graduate school, professor of polymer science and chemistry, intellectual property fellow and James and Vanita Oelschlager professor of science and technology, and Dr. Charles Moorefield, associate research scientist, Department of Polymer Science, with Firestone High School junior Stephen Campbell on "Dendrimers, Polymers, and Macroscopic Assemblies;"
  • Dr. Mark D. Soucek, associate professor of polymer engineering, with Firestone High senior Charles Gordon on "Synthesis and Evaluation of Coating Properties of Meth(acrylate) and Polyester-Based Block Copolymer;"
  • Dr. Christopher Ziegler, associate professor of chemistry, with Garfield High senior Goran Maratic on "Aqueous Chemistry of Organometallic Complexes of Rhenium, Manganese and Osmium;"
  • Dr. Bi-Min Zhang Newby, associate professor of chemical engineering, with Firestone High junior Amy Gao on "Protein Patterning Techniques and Biofilms;"
  • Dr. Jun Hu, associate professor chemistry, with North High junior Duaa Almahd on "Colorimetric Glucose Sensing under Physiological Conditions Using Fiber Optic Spectrometer;"
  • Dr. David Modarelli, associate professor of chemistry, with Garfield High junior Latoya Higginbottom on "Photosynthesis and Artificial Energy Conversion;"
  • Dr. Edward Evans, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, with Sandy Valley High sophomore Christian Mayfield on "Carbon-Carbon Composite Synthesis;"
  • Dr. David Perry, professor of chemistry, with North High junior Katherine Baldwin on "How is Chemical Information Transmitted Through Graphitic Materials?"; and 
  • Dr. Darrell Reneker, professor of polymer science, and Dr. Connie Hubbard, polymer science research associate, with Firestone High junior Dioswal Johnson on "The Effects of DC Electric Fields on Oil-Laden Nanofibers."

"The students will complete reports on their projects and gather with their mentors to discuss their research in detail," says Dr. William Donovan, UA associate professor, director of freshman chemistry and Akron Project SEED coordinator. "Students take away a strong understanding of the chemical science profession from this experience. There's nothing quite like it."

Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or henryd@uakron.edu.