Cherice Evans became the rare undergraduate student to play a key role in significant chemistry research, under the mentoring of Gary Findley, University of Louisiana at Monroe professor of physical chemistry.
Fast forward a few years and Evans, a Florien native, is now an assistant professor at Queens College in New York. A new ULM grant is allowing Findley and Evans to continue their collaboration while giving new ULM undergraduates groundbreaking research opportunities.
The $114,439 grant for the chemistry program is the only Louisiana Board of Regents research competitiveness grant received by ULM. The Regents issued 28 such grants statewide. But maybe even more important is that these funds help open the door to receive even more substantial federal grants in the future, Findley said.
The researchers are attempting to better understand chemical reactions to help in everything from the creation of industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals to the elimination or transformation of unsafe emission toxins for safe disposal, he said.
It is important to get undergraduate students involved in research early in their academic careers, Findley said, even if it is not a common practice, especially since ULM no longer has a chemistry master's degree program from which to borrow students. The result is earlier academic and career success, he said.
Evans is the perfect example and only recent ULM example of an undergraduate chemistry student who was heavily involved in publishing substantial research results. As a result, she earned her doctorate in three years, as opposed to the six-year average, Evans said.
"It gives (undergraduates) the chance to learn maturity," Evans said, but it requires a lot of passion and commitment to the work.
An extra commitment will be required since the two ULM students selected each year will have to travel to the University of Wisconsin at Madison for seven weeks for research, where they will work from 8 a.m. to midnight in labs some days, Findley said.
There the researchers will study chemical reactions through the advanced Synchrotron Radiation Center, which allows them to study light created by manipulated electrons.
The project is formally called "Evolution of the Conduction Band in Dense Fluorinated Hydrocarbons."
Essentially, the project is about creating faster and better chemical reactions through a fuller understanding of electron behavior in dense gases at the "critical point" the temperature above which a dense gas never forms a liquid, Findley said.