VCU Chemistry Majors: Summer Research in Retrospect


Josh websiteThis summer I did a research internship at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA through their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program.  I worked on a project this summer that focused on finding better drug therapies for Ebola virus and other filoviruses.  Specifically, I looked at antibodies from human survivors of Ebola and other filoviruses, then mapped how they interacted with a protein expressed on the surface of the viruses that’s responsible for allowing the virus to infect cells using electron microscopy to produce 3-D images of the complex.  This provides more information as to whether the antibody will be a good candidate for use in a therapeutic cocktail.

This internship had a profound impact on my professional development! I’m very interested in studying the immune system and viruses at the molecular level to gain a better understanding of how they work, and this internship allowed me to gain experience in the exact area of research I’m interested in.


My job at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare is to assist in the structure elucidation efforts of the Materials andCassie website Product Chemistry team. Structure elucidation consists of using HPLC/MS, preparative LC, MS/MS, and NMR to characterize unknown degradants in our over the counter prototypes. This summer I also got the opportunity to learn more about GC-MS, and I hope to use the instrument in future projects involving solid-phase microextraction (SPME) fibers. My experiences at Pfizer have helped prepare me for pharmacy school by encouraging me to think critically and to work independently. Working at Pfizer has also been a great opportunity for me to use what i’ve learned in the classroom and apply it in a real lab setting.


LeahThis summer, I was able to continue research that I had started through Independent Study with Dr. Gronert in my junior year.  I worked on a mass spectrometer looking at reaction rates of organic molecules in gas-phase. In addition, I started a new project of at isolating an organic dianion and a small metal cation (such as Li+ or Na+) in the mass spectrometer in order to study different types of reactions.  Doing research over the summer allowed for me to focus on the research and apply different concepts I learned in my classes at VCU to these two projects.  Doing research has definitely broadened my interest in chemistry and I feel as though working in a lab has led me to pursue a PhD in chemistry.



Joel websiteI had the pleasure of working in the Department of Chemistry with Dr. Heather Lucas, conducting research related to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. With these diseases, along with the process of aging, the cellular organelle called the mitochondrion becomes dysfunctional likely due to faulty electron transfer of one of the mitochondrial enzymes. Interestingly, if laser light is used to irradiate dysfunctional cells, this electron transfer is rejuvenated and the mitochondria  become fully functional again.  My active role in the Lucas lab was (and still is) to analyze the chemistry behind this electron transfer via laser light through a hetero-bimetallic synthetic model that mimics this particular enzyme’s catalysis.

This research opportunity has given me a chance to develop my ability to think critically and allowing me to effectively solve everyday problems, a “must-have” skill in the professional world. There are numerous skills that I have developed that give me an upper-hand professionally. The most relevant concept that I have come to learn while conducting research is the power to touch the minds of others with knowledge that can influence behaviors that may lead to the betterment of mankind. This is a skill that every competent chemist, biologist, physicist, physician or any professional should have. 



This summer I did undergraduate research in Dr. Alvarez’s lab. I learned how to use an electrochemicalLauren technique called cyclic voltammetry. The experience was enriching towards my knowledge because a lot of the chemistry involved in the technique was outside of my scope. It required me to take the chemistry I knew, and apply it to this unfamiliar area of chemistry. The best part of research was working in a lab where experiments are not designed to succeed. I enjoyed the mystery that each experiment presented and the investigation process that followed. All in all, this experience strengthened my desire to pursue a career in research.


Last semester I was awarded the 2015 EXROP Award through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute edris website(HHMI) in which I was placed at the University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign to participate in research within their chemistry department this past summer. My research focused on studying a specific sulfite reductase by engineering functional mimics in simpler well-known proteins. The summer program gave me the opportunity to explore different areas of chemistry research and diversified my knowledge for approaching future research projects. This summer has been especially helpful in guiding my endeavors to attend graduate school and, ultimately, obtain my Ph.D in a particular field of chemistry.




This summer I went to Auburn University to do research. I worked in Harrison School of Pharmacy for ten weeks. My research was about metastatic melanoma treatments, often targeting malfunctioning ErbB4 receptors.  My research consisted of High Throughput Screening. I used sandwich ELISAs and ran stimulations on a robot. I worked alongside a graduate student of chemical engineering, Richard Cullum, and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs of the Pharmacy School, Dr. Riese. This experience has greatly added to my professional development because I received hands on experience in a wet lab, but  it also showed me what was expected of a graduate student. It helped me discover if I think research is for me. Often it can be very frustrating when you don’t receive immediate results, but the breakthrough is what makes it all worth it.


Tyler websiteIn lab, I work under the supervision of a graduate student on an independent project to synthesize cathinone-like compounds. These compounds are known as “bath salts” and are being found on the streets as drugs of abuse. My lab is trying to better understand the mechanism of action of these compounds at the monoamine transporters. My current project is the synthesis of 3-methoxymethcathinone and evaluation of its effects on the monoamine transporters.
My time spent in lab taught me many things I would not necessarily learn in a classroom. Being able to test a procedure, observe the reaction, and adjust any variables based off of the results strengthened my observation and research skills while also enhancing my ability to critically analyze problems without a known solution. Research has also taught me interpersonal skills through attending graduate student seminars and presentations, and participating in weekly lab group meetings. Most importantly, working in a lab has provided me with insight on the importance of collaborative learning and teamwork

Goldwater Scholarship: Attention STEM sophomores and juniors interested in funding!


The National Scholarship Office is hosting two upcoming information sessions for the Goldwater Scholarship: Wednesday, Sept 2 at 1:00PM and Thursday, Sept 3 at 2:00PM, both held in Room 1303 at The Honors College (701 W. Grace Street). Goldwater Scholarships recognize sophomores and juniors pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in these fields.  For more information about Goldwater Scholarships, visit or or email

The Goldwater Scholarship recognizes students who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in these fields.

Competitive Goldwater candidates will be strong students (GPA > 3.7), will already have research experience, and will have a plan for pursuing graduate education that will lead to a career as a research scientist, engineer or mathematician.

Since 2007, nine VCU undergraduates have been selected as Goldwater Scholars.  They have pursued or are presently pursuing graduate degrees at Johns Hopkins, UCLA, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Harvard and Oxford among others.  Other nominees who were not selected as Goldwater Scholars have also gone on to pursue graduate degrees at top graduate institutions.

First year students who are not yet eligible to apply are encouraged to attend one of the Goldwater information sessions to learn more about this future opportunity.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate.

The purpose of the Foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields.