Gallaudet University chemistry majors gain nanotechnology skills in summer internship at Howard University

Three Gallaudet University chemistry majors gained experience in nanotechnology during a research internship, held May 30 to August 4, 2011, at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Nanotechnology deals with the manipulation of matter on the scale of a billionth of a meter, and is currently studied in many fields of applied and research science, such as medicine, optics, chemistry, and semiconductor electronics.

The internship was made possible through National Science Foundation (Division of Material Research) grant number 0611595, which was awarded to Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, and Prince George's Community College.

Under the tutelage of Dr. Paul Sabila, an assistant professor in Gallaudet's Department of Chemistry and Physics, students Fang Yang, John Van Wey, and Gaber Rupnik worked in the laboratory at Howard's Department of Chemistry, synthesizing various organic compounds generally referred to as β-ketoimines. These compounds were purified by distillation under vacuum and then analyzed. This summer work will be followed up in the fall, and further synthesis and analysis will be carried out at Gallaudet's chemistry research laboratories by the students, under Sabila's guidance. The students will use these synthesized organic compounds to make various metal derivatives, which will then be used to prepare nanomaterials like gallium amide, which has potential application in the semiconductor industry.

During the internship, the students had the opportunity to attend presentations on nanotechnology and to visit the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., to learn more about various applications and techniques of nanotechnology. The internship also taught the students valuable lessons in laboratory safety. The students gave poster presentations at Johns Hopkins on August 4 and will be giving another presentation at the University of Maryland's Undergraduate Research Symposium on October 22, as well as at Gallaudet this fall.

During the 2011-2012 academic year, the students will continue to work with Sabila at Gallaudet on various projects, including organic synthesis, development of new synthetic strategies, and synthesis of natural product-like molecules, as well as nanotechnology. This year, the three participating students will also act as mentors for new students interested in pursuing research and majoring in chemistry.

"This summer research internship further strengthened the collaboration between Gallaudet University and Howard University," said Sabila, who was also able to advise several of Howard's graduate students while at the university. "We greatly appreciate the support of Gallaudet's Career Center, the National Science Foundation, and Dr. Joshua Halpern and Dr. Jason Matthews from Howard University." Sabila also extended his appreciation to Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz; the Mellon Foundation; College of Liberal Arts, Sciences, and Technologies Dean Isaac Agboola; Department of Chemistry and Physics Acting Chair Dave Snyder and his mentor, Department of Chemistry professor Charlene Sorensen; and Gallaudet's Small Research Grants program for providing funds for the renovation of the University's chemistry research laboratories and for the purchase of new chemicals and equipment.

Sabila has a collaborative research relationship with faculty in Howard's Department of Chemistry and School of Engineering, and the possibility of establishing a stronger collaboration that will enable Gallaudet students to obtain more internship/research experiences at Howard and Johns Hopkins, and possibly other universities. "This will be very beneficial to Gallaudet students, and it will also enable them to develop potential networks that could help them obtain graduate school positions at some of these institutions," said Sabila. "The collaboration between Gallaudet and Howard universities will strengthen the chemistry and physics program at Gallaudet, helping Gallaudet continue to be an attractive destination as the university of first choice among deaf and hard of hearing individuals."

--Dr. Paul Sabila

(This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under DMR-0611595. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.)