College of Science

Welch program immerses students in chemistry research

For the 22nd consecutive year, high school students from around Texas had the opportunity to participate in chemistry research at UT Arlington as part of the Welch Summer Scholar Program, conducting experiments and receiving one-on-one mentoring from faculty members.

The program, funded by the Welch Foundation of Texas, brings four male and four female high school students to campus to spend five weeks as Welch scholars. The students receive full scholarships to cover all program costs. Students are selected based on academic standing, personal statements and letters of recommendation. Since its inception, the Welch program has served more than 1,500 high school students from across Texas.

This summer, the program was held June 8 to July 11. Seiichero Tanizaki, lecturer in chemistry and biochemistry serves as site director for UT Arlington’s Welch program.

“The unique aspect of the Welch program is that students join chemistry research projects from the beginning of the program, following two days of orientation, and engage in formal chemistry research from morning to evening every day except for weekends,” Tanizaki said. “They learn how to use modern instrumentation. They participate in research group meetings. This type of exposure to an academic research environment is difficult to find in a regular high school curriculum.”

The Welch program is extremely rigorous and intensive, Tanizaki said. Scholars need to learn about their assigned research project quickly, conduct experiments, write a paper in a peer-reviewed style, make a poster, and give an oral presentation in the form of a department seminar at the end of the program.

Faculty participation is critical to the success of the program, Tanizaki noted. This year, faculty members serving as mentors included: Alejandro Bugarin, Saiful Chowdhury, Rasika Dias, Junha Jeon, Kayunta Johnson-Winters, Peter Kroll, Carl Lovely, and Fred MacDonnell.

The 2014 class of Welch scholars and their projects included:

•Anlei Tang (Westwood High School, Austin) synthesized and studied new thiol compounds’ potential for use in anti-carcinogenic treatment, in Bugarin’s lab.

•Jiwoo Lee (Cinco Ranch High School, Katy) investigated the possibility of using zinc, iron and nickel as metal complexes to catalyze carbon dioxide reduction and transform it to fuels, in MacDonnell’s lab.

•Manasa Dutta (Vandegrift High School, Austin) studied the impact of the element hafnium on the silicon-29 NMR chemical shift in random network structures of hafnia-silica glasses used in micro-electronic devices, in Kroll’s lab.

•Minji Kim (Liberal Arts and Science Academy, Austin) worked on large-scale analytical techniques to identify post-translational modifications of proteins associated with various cancers and progeria (a genetic disease causing premature aging of children), in Chowdhury’s lab.

•Raina Zhang (St. John’s School, Houston) synthesized new organometallic light-emitting compounds which have potential applications in electronic displays and other visual technologies, in Dias’ lab.

•Rohan Chakraborty (Seven Lakes High School, Katy) explored several possible mechanisms for the final step or the C2-oxidation of the imidazole moiety on the quinone, a known anti-cancer agent, in Lovely’s lab.

•Teresa Lee (Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, Houston) demonstrated efficient and green synthesis processes of enoates through refined tandem hydrosilyation/Homer-Wadsworth olefination methods, in Jeon’s lab.

•Thomas Oh (Reagan High School, San Antonio) studied steady state kinetic isotope effect of the enzymes whose characterization is an important step in developing alternate sources of energy such as biofuels and treatment for tuberculosis, in Johnson-Winters’ lab.

First row, from left: Minji Kim, Teresa Lee, Manasa Dutta, Rainah Zhang, Shouana Vang and Rainah McIntyre. Second row: Seiichero Tanizaki, Rohan Chakraborty, Jiwoo Lee, Anlei Tang and Thomas Oh. Third row: Rasika Dias, Peter Kroll, Fred MacDonnell and Alejandro Bugarin..
“The program is nationally recognized as one of the best science programs for high school students, and it exposes the strength and the depth of research taking place in our department at UT Arlington,” Tanizaki said. “Each faculty mentor must be able to offer a Welch scholar a meaningful chemistry project chosen from their own research. The program also displays the commitment of faculty members toward education. All Welch scholars are minors and having them in a research laboratory requires a lot of paperwork and training for each faculty member.”

Nine UT Arlington students served as student mentors for the Welch scholars, and assisted the scholars with their experiments. The student mentors included: Brian LaPosa (Bugarin’s group), Ruchika Bhawal (Chowdhury’s group), Kiran Adiraju (Dias’ group), Hiep Nguyen (Jeon’s group), Ebenezer Joseph (Johnson-Winters’ group), John Nimmo and Atreyi Dasmahapatra (Kroll’s group), Andy Seal (Lovely’s group), and Matthew West (MacDonnell’s group).

“As site director for the last two years, I have observed an interesting aspect that comes along with the program. That is, the Welch program provides each student invaluable experience living alone, independently away from their parents, giving them the experience of college life for five weeks,” Tanizaki said. “Such an experience gives scholars a glimpse of what they should expect and what they need to prepare for before they actually go to university. Five weeks is just enough to give such an experience, not too long and not too short.”

During the program’s five weeks, the scholars lived together on campus in Vandergriff Hall and were assisted by UT Arlington undergraduates Shouana Vang and Rainah McIntyre, who served as student counselors and provided firsthand knowledge of college life. The scholars learned the importance of providing support to each other and helping each other complete the program. The scholars were provided with fun weekend activities such as visits to Six Flags and Hurricane Harbor amusement parks. The students began as strangers but by the end of the program, they had developed a real camaraderie, Tanizaki said.

“I am very proud of every scholar who participated in the program,” Tanizaki said. “Considering that they are 17 years old, diving into a real research lab where they don’t know anyone, learning to work in such an environment, and completing all required tasks by the required deadlines is not a job that some adults would be able to accomplish. They are a truly remarkable group of young people, and Welch is a truly remarkable program. We are honored that the UT Arlington Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry serves as a site for the Welch Summer Scholars Program.”

Posted July 25, 2014