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Chemistry students excel

Submitted photo / Students and faculty involved with EOU's Chemistry Club at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in San Diego this spring where the club was presented with a top award for outreach activities.

Submitted photo / Students and faculty involved with EOU’s Chemistry Club at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in San Diego this spring, where the club was presented with a top award for outreach activities.

Chemistry Club named outstanding chapter 6th year in a row

News contact: Laura Hancock, University Advancement, 541-962-3585
Source contact: Anna Cavinato, Professor of Chemistry, 541-962-3561 

Story by Kelly Ducote for EOU

Jeremy Bard

Jeremy Bard

LA GRANDE, Ore. June 7, 2016 – For the sixth year in a row, Eastern Oregon University’s Chemistry Club received an Outstanding Award from the American Chemical Society at its national spring meeting.

The EOU Chemistry Club was among about 50 chapters across the nation to receive the award out of more than 1,000 chapters. It is the only chapter in Oregon to get the distinction.

Twenty students with the Chemistry Club traveled to San Diego for the 251st ACS National Meeting & Exposition March 13-17. The club travels each year to the ACS spring meeting, and members relish the opportunities the event brings. The meetings include workshops to learn about other research, a Chem Demo Exchange and plenty of networking activities.

“Being able to present on a big national stage is a huge benefit,” said Jeremy Bard, president of the club for 2015-16. “It’s also just a good bonding experience for the club.”

More than half of the club’s 35 members attended this year’s meeting, thanks in large part to fundraising efforts, a Student Senate allocation and donations that help defray the out-of-pocket cost to students, including financial support from the ACS Richland Local Section.

During the national meeting, EOU students presented seven research posters and an additional poster illustrating the chapter’s outreach activities, which earned the club the Outstanding Award.

In the Chem Demo Exchange, a time for successful chapters to showcase fun demonstrations used in outreach events, the EOU club did a demonstration about determining the chemical nature of a powder left at a crime scene.

Bard said the hard work of the club has resulted in more than an award this year.

“Because of our outstanding work, we were asked to write a chapter of a book about rural outreach,” he said.

Anna Cavinato, professor of chemistry and club advisor, said the ACS invited her to contribute to a book called “Building and Maintaining Award-Winning ACS Student Members” to be published by the society.

“I thought I would involve the club officers in writing the chapter, and they did an outstanding job including a section that describes the benefits that students find in being part of the club and participating in the type of outreach activities we do,” Cavinato explained.

Zach Nilsson

Zach Nilsson

The club hosts outreach events at schools across the region, including a major Saturday Science event at Treasure Valley Community College this school year. The club is also involved with the annual Girls in Science event at EOU and works with minority students to get them interested in chemistry.

Cavinato praised the club officers for their hard work over the past year, both in organizing outreach events and fundraising to go to the national ACS meeting.

“They are full of initiative. They don’t really need my guidance,” she said.

For one local student, the hard work of getting to annual ACS meetings has paid off in a major way. Zach Nilsson, a 2012 La Grande High School graduate, met a Colorado State University recruiter at the 2015 ACS meeting in Denver. This spring, Nilsson got to tell that same recruiter that he will be on his campus come this fall when he begins the Ph.D. program there.

“I wouldn’t be going there otherwise,” said Nilsson, who hopes to study super high-resolution imaging of nanoparticle reactions at Colorado State.

Nilsson is one of three local chemistry club students graduating this spring and moving on to a Ph.D. program.

Bard, a 2011 La Grande High School graduate, will be heading to Eugene to pursue his doctorate at the University of Oregon. He plans to study synthetic organic chemistry and its applications to solar technologies.

Katie Hamann, a 2011 North Powder High School graduate, is pursuing her Ph.D. in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which her peers are quick to point out is the number one school in the nation for the degree.

“It’s a good school, so I’m excited,” Hamann said with a smile.

Katie Hamann

Katie Hamann

Hamann was also accepted to the University of Washington and the University of Oregon, Cavinato noted. She hopes to study physical or inorganic chemistry applied to nanoparticles.

All three students will be going to graduate school on full ride scholarships, and they agreed that their decision to pursue a doctorate is both exciting and intimidating.

Bard said it’s still hard to grasp what’s coming next for them as this school year wraps up.

“We’re still in the mindset we’ve been in for four or five years,” he said.

Yet, they all said they feel confident as they enter the next chapters of their lives because of the experiences they’ve had at Eastern. All three have served as teaching assistants and have had access to lab work not available at other universities, something they’ve learned in interacting with other chemistry students across the country through ACS.

“I think it’s just so much more hands-on than at larger schools,” Bard said of EOU. “It’d be a lot more intimidating.”

Summer internships

Seeing the successes of her classmates is encouraging for freshman biochemistry major Brianna Mees. This summer, she will work with Collin Andrew, professor of chemistry, in an internship funded by the National Science Foundation.

Mees is hoping the internship and future ACS meetings will help her decide between going to graduate school and medical school. She’s looking forward to working with proteins in the lab this summer.

“I want to know if I choose to work in a lab that I can handle it,” she said. “I just want to learn more about chemistry.”

Brian Mandella, fellow biochemistry major, will spend his summer working with Cavinato in an internship funded by the Wildhorse Foundation.

An intern from La Grande High School will also be part of the project and funded through Project SEED, an ACS summer research program for economically disadvantaged high school students. The research focuses on the development of sensors for bacterial detection in salmon.

Mandella, a junior, said the work’s most immediate application will help Oregon hatcheries monitor fish health. He enjoys the project because of its local applications as well as other opportunities it will present.

“The technology can be applied to anything we want it to,” he said, noting that the research last year was funded by NASA.

For more information on EOU’s chemistry and biochemistry program, visit eou.edu/chem.