August 22, 2010
10-136

Jennifer Tanner
Communications Specialist

Professor/students Conduct Research at National Lab

VALDOSTA -- Associate Professor Dr. Linda de la Garza and two of her students spent 10 weeks this summer conducting research at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) located just outside Chicago, Ill.

Olivia R. Law and Michael C. Mitchell, two Valdosta State University undergraduate students pursuing chemistry degrees, fulfilled Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internships, funded by the ANL's Department of Energy. Dr. de la Garza selected these students because of their outstanding performance in the general chemistry courses, as well as their many other interests. As part of de la Garza's research team, both had opportunities to interact with and learn from ANL scientists -- some of the best minds in nanotechnology -- work within a state-of-the-art facility and learn more about careers in scientific research.

De la Garza collaborates with Dr. Tijana Rajh at the Center for Nanoscale Materials as they share an interest in semiconductor nanoparticles for energy conversion. Her research at the first U.S. national laboratory aimed to make particles of iron oxide (Fe2O3), commonly known as rust, of about 5 nanometers in diameter. Her team's goal was to assemble films that upon irradiation with light could generate current -- much like solar panels, but more efficient and accessible for solar energy conversion devices.

The students gained experience with nanoparticle synthesis methods, photoelectrochemistry and related topics, which are all areas being developed at VSU. However, not all work was in the laboratory; students received training in abstract writing, attended seminars -- including a lecture by Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath -- and spent the weekends experiencing the energy and culture of downtown Chicago.

Mitchell said the experience opened his eyes to a world of cultures and provided unparallel experiences in cultural exchange as well as skilled research as a mainstream chemist.

"I was able to see the interconnectedness of all fields of science and the importance of cooperative performance," said Mitchell, who plans to continue his study of chemistry at the graduate level. "Differing levels of expertise were needed in order to operate devices or the generation of data. Networking with peers and scientists played a key role in the execution of our experimental objectives while concurrently providing for an invaluable experience."

Law said she learned the importance of patience and meticulousness.

"Research is a job that requires effort and patience. Our experiment taught me that in science to find the right way to get results you might have to step on some wrong ones," she said, adding that the trip taught her more than just academics. " I made many new friends at Argonne, who taught me so much about their cultures and lifestyles. I learned to make cinnamon rolls and gazpacho and on the weekend we toured the city together."

De la Garza considers the 10-week project a success, both for her research and for VSU.

"Our students perform at such a level of excellence, both as persons and professionals. I am very proud of how well they are able to represent VSU in such an intensive program," she said.

This is the second time such an experience is available to VSU students. In 2008, de la Garza, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), formed a faculty and student team with other two undergraduates and their successful research was highlighted at the peer-reviewed Department of Energy Journal of Undergraduate Research Vol. IX, 2009. She expects that this summer research results will also be material for an appropriate journal.