Doug Mulford’s Scientific Writing Course Featured in the Dooley Report

Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.
Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.

Doug Mulford’s freshman seminar is featured in this week’s Dooley Report, the weekly ebulletin sent to all Emory students. From the article:

“If you have a better understanding of the history of knowledge, you realize the things we think are true now are going to change, and you have to be open to that new learning,” says Douglas Mulford, senior lecturer of chemistry and the director of undergraduate studies for Emory’s chemistry department.

Mulford’s first-year seminar, “How Do We Know That: 2,500 years of Great Science Writing,” aims to help students develop those skills by delving into scientific claims of the past and present as well as the ethics that go with scientific advancement.

Part science literature and part critical thinking, the course is one of several first-year courses offered under Emory’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), “The Nature of Evidence: How Do You Know?”

Read the full story online at the Dooley Report.

Research Spotlight: Analytical Chemistry Out of the Lab and Into the WaterHub

Students in their laboratory safety gear outside the WaterHub.
Students in their laboratory safety gear outside the WaterHub.

By: Laura Briggs (EC ’19)

Sometimes, being in an academic lab setting can feel a bit pointless. Instructors and TAs are there to help you every step of the way, procedures are laid out for you step-by-step, and everyone pretty much knows what the “right” result should be. I understand that this method helps you learn techniques and reinforce concepts, but it definitely isn’t what I’ve experienced in a real research setting.

Dr. Jeremy Weaver’s analytical chemistry lab has been a fun and fulfilling change of scenery from step-by-step lab work. Our class visited the WaterHub with sample collection bottles and got a hands-on look at the real science that goes on there (I talk more about the WaterHub experience here). Then, we took the samples back into the lab to do some real research.

Dr. Weaver famously says that analytical chemistry is the class where data accuracy and precision matter the most. But for the WaterHub project, he took a more open-ended approach. He didn’t give us a procedure to follow; instead, we spent a week scouring the Internet and the scientific literature to figure out what to do. And when we asked if a certain procedure would work, Dr. Weaver encouraged us to go for it, give it a shot, and see what happened.

Using the techniques we learned in lab, including gas chromatography, titrations, and spectrophotometry, we determined (somewhat successfully) the phosphate and aluminum concentrations of the water, along with “water hardness” – a fancy term for the concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and a few other ions in a water sample. These are values that water quality testers would measure during a routine check of water quality.

Of course, without a surefire procedure to follow, it took a couple of tries to work out the kinks. My portion of the project was to determine the phosphate concentration of the WaterHub samples using UV/Vis spectrometry. The concept behind this technique is simple – you add an agent to your sample that creates a color change, and the degree to which the color appears corresponds to the concentration of the sample. The first time I added my coloring agent to each sample, absolutely nothing happened – even when I knew that there was a ton of phosphate in the sample!

The process of research, as we learned, is full of troubleshooting and setbacks. But eventually, I found the amount of phosphate in the WaterHub water! Boy, did I feel accomplished because I found the procedure and performed the experiments myself. Even in an academic lab setting, it is possible to conduct real research, answer real questions, and engage with the Emory community on a larger level. Dr. Weaver’s WaterHub project brought the esoteric techniques of quantitative analytical chemistry and gave them new life through a real-life application.

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Laura BriggsLaura Briggs is a sophomore majoring in chemistry and dance. Laura is a Woodruff Scholar and the Vice President of the Emory Swing Dance Club. She is also a member of the Emory Dance Company and hosts a weekly, science-themed radio show. Laura is a research assistant in the Weinert lab, where she studies really cool bacteria that attack potatoes. Laura plans to pursue either a Ph.D. in biochemistry or a master’s in science writing.

To learn more about the WaterHub, check out this link from Campus Services!

http://www.campserv.emory.edu/fm/energy_utilities/water-hub/

First Person: Discovering the WaterHub at Emory

Analytical chemistry students listen to a tour guide at the WaterHub at Emory.
Analytical chemistry students listen to a tour guide in the front hall of the WaterHub at Emory.

By: Laura Briggs (EC ’19)

I didn’t know that the WaterHub existed until this semester, which is a shame because it’s right in my backyard. From my dorm room at 15 Eagle Row, I can see the greenhouse and the mysterious metal trapdoors embedded in the grassy area near Peavine Creek Drive. But it wasn’t until my analytical chemistry lab trekked across campus, collection bottles and safety goggles in hand, that I learned how awesome the WaterHub really is.

One of the first things you see when you enter the WaterHub is a banana tree, happily flourishing among the greenery in the heat and humidity. Besides providing me with a bit of joy, the tree is working full-time for a greater cause. Its roots are the centerpiece of a hydroponic reactor beneath the greenhouse that harnesses the natural design of plants to provide efficient and stable water treatment.

As our tour guide explained to the class, the WaterHub recycles up to 400,000 gallons of water every day, meeting almost 40% of Emory’s total water needs. Don’t worry, though- our guide reassured us that repurposed sewage is not coming out of the water fountains. Instead, the recycled water heats and cools buildings and helps flush toilets in some of Emory’s dorms.

How does this Cinderella transformation occur? The treatment process begins with a series of moving bed bioreactors to settle out and digest the – um – solid components of sewage. These large tanks contain a floating plastic netting system where bacteria can settle and grow into compact communities called biofilms.

Different kinds of bacteria proliferate in different bioreactors, and the WaterHub puts each of them to work cleaning various components of the wastewater. Oxygen levels control the types of bacteria that flourish. One bioreactor is completely anaerobic, encouraging the growth of bacteria that can “denitrify” the water, reducing dangerous nitrates into harmless nitrogen gas. Other bioreactors have different oxygen conditions, and the microbes that grow there perform other functions.

The next step in the process also relies on nature; a vast network of plant roots dips down into a series of hydroponic reactors, providing maximum surface area for more junk-eating microbes to inhabit. Alongside the plants, there’s also an artificial system of textile webbing to provide additional filtration.

At this point in the treatment system, the water is pretty clear, and almost all contaminants have been removed. Still, the process isn’t over. Water passes through a clarifier and a filter, removing any remaining solids, nutrients, and color from the water. Finally, any straggling biological contaminants are zapped away with a combination of chlorine and ultraviolet (UV) light. Our class sampled this fully-repurposed water to test for various contents (Here is my blog post exploring this process in-depth!)

The WaterHub – once a mystery to me – is a brilliant marriage of sustainability, engineering, chemistry, and biology right on Peavine Creek Drive! Thanks to Dr. Weaver’s analytical chemistry lab course, I can now look out my dorm room window and appreciate the source of the water that heats the building on these cold winter nights – and the beautifully-evolved natural processes that keep it clean.

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Laura BriggsLaura Briggs is a sophomore majoring in chemistry and dance. Laura is a Woodruff Scholar and the Vice President of the Emory Swing Dance Club. She is also a member of the Emory Dance Company and hosts a weekly, science-themed radio show. Laura is a research assistant in the Weinert lab, where she studies really cool bacteria that attack potatoes. Laura plans to pursue either a Ph.D. in biochemistry or a master’s in science writing.

To learn more about the WaterHub, check out this link from Campus Services!

http://www.campserv.emory.edu/fm/energy_utilities/water-hub/

Chemistry Major Michelle Stofberg Featured in ACS “Lab Tales” Book

Michelle Stofberg
Michelle Stofberg

Chemistry major Michelle Stofberg (EC ’17) is featured in a new book from the American Chemical Society, The Power and Promise of Early Research from the ACS Symposium Series. Michelle’s story about her first experiences in the lab appears in the chapter “Lab Tales: Personal Stories of Early Researchers.” Michelle describes her first encounters with laboratory research at Emory in her own words, including Introductory Chemistry II with Dr. Nichole Powell at Emory’s Oxford College and laboratory work with Brenda Harmon. Currently, Michelle is an undergraduate researcher in the Liebeskind Lab. Michelle was also a summer SURE researcher at Emory.

An excerpt from “Lab Tales”:

Sharing my research experiences with others helped me appreciate just how extraordinary these research opportunities were and reflect on how much I have learnt. As I explained before, a researcher studies unknowns. This task seemed rather daunting to me at first; however, I soon realized that there was something spectacular about delving into the unfamiliar. I saw the beauty of challenging the unknown and the joy of discovery. Of course, I do not mean discovery as a stagnant, completed act, but as a fluid, ongoing process. In other words, research is wonderful for it is a challenging process of understanding and learning. It challenges you to face your weaknesses and bolster your strengths; it forces you to consider the world through a different, inquisitive lens; it helps you realize your passions; and it lets you grow as a student and as an individual.
Congratulations, Michelle!
[Lab Tales] (subscriber access)

Student Spotlight: Chem Mentor Sunidhi Ramesh

Sunidhi Ramesh
Sunidhi Ramesh

Early mentoring experiences solidified Sunidhi Ramesh’s desire to pursue a career in medicine.

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was four,” she explains. That was the age when she started accompanying her favorite uncle on visits to his medical practice in a small, rural village in India. Her uncle’s clinic “was so different from any clinic or hospital that you would see here. It was quiet, and he was often the only person working there.” In that small space, she saw her uncle having a big impact.

“He used to give out free medicine. If he had patients who were homeless, he wouldn’t charge them. It was a very humbling process. He would be tired at the end of the day, but he’d be happy. I noticed that really quickly.”

Sunidhi’s interest in medicine eventually led her to the strong STEM programs at Emory. As a first year student, she struggled with time management—understandable considering she was involved in an array of activities, from writing for The Wheel to performing on a Bollywood dance team. Attending Chem Mentor tutoring sessions helped her to slow down and learn to budget her time.

“Chem Mentors kind of forced me to sit down and say, ‘Okay, these two hours are just for chemistry problems.’ I could figure out what I was comfortable with and what I wasn’t comfortable with and study from there. It gave me a baseline,” says Sunidhi.

Now, Sunidhi—a double major in Neuroscience and Sociology—is a Chem Mentor, helping other students to enhance their experience in Chem 141 and 142.

Sunidhi works on chemistry concepts with students (l-r) Mary, Farris, and Yasmin.
Sunidhi works on chemistry concepts with students (l-r) Mary, Farris, and Yasmin.

Chem Mentors are upper level students who provide weekly tutoring sessions to students enrolled in “Gen Chem.” Students who apply to be mentors must have completed Gen Chem classes at Emory with a grade of A- or better and are required to submit a reference from an Emory professor. Selected students undergo training and are also required to attend Gen Chem class sessions—helping to refresh their content knowledge and allowing them to serve as an in-class resource to students taking the class for the first time.

The tutoring sessions are the heart of the program, giving Chem Mentors responsibility for their peers’ learning. Mentors must develop their own approach to the material and lead sessions independently. Sunidhi says that one of the challenges is finding ways to help students who have different levels of comfort with the material under review. She’s learned not to make assumptions about what students already know; when students do show mastery, she will often keep them engaged by asking them to teach the material to others who are struggling. Her own experience with Chem Mentors has showed her that teaching material can help to solidify complex concepts even for students who have a firm grasp on course content.

“You benefit from teaching someone and learning how to explain the problem and someone else benefits from hearing it from another person,” she says.

The challenges from the program have given her a new respect for the professors who deal with these kinds of issues every day. “I’m a lot more sympathetic with professors now!”

At the same time, Sunidhi and her fellow Chem Mentors are able to use their role to help other students feel more comfortable with their professors. “Sometimes students aren’t as comfortable going to [the faculty] with questions. During our sessions, they come to us and we try to refer them to their professors to make them more comfortable with going to office hours; first years, especially, are very anxious. They think they can’t go to office hours unless they have a good question to ask.”

Director of Undergraduate Studies Dr. Doug Mulford praises Sunidhi’s commitment. “Sunidhi has been a model mentor helping countless students understand the material in Chemistry 141 and 142.  She relates to them as one who has been there herself.” Dr. Tracy McGill adds: “The Chem Mentors themselves are what make the program so outstanding.  Having a peer who has succeeded in the course earlier and can model tenacity, patience, and a methodical approach to breaking down a complex problem is invaluable to our students’ success.”

Sunidhi’s commitment to mentoring extends beyond chemistry. She mentors high school students through Emory Pipeline, a program that seeks to build awareness of STEM careers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and she has also served as an Orientation Leader twice. “I think it’s a rewarding experience to be a mentor in general,” she says. “You get to see things from a different perspective.”

With Chem Mentors, Sunidhi is often pleasantly surprised by what she has retained from Gen Chem. “Sometimes I’m surprised that I still remember how to do the problem! I think those kinds of surprises combined with the reward of having to teach a class and seeing students have that ‘a-ha’ moment where they realize how a concept works—those are the rewards that line up and make it a good program.”

Maybe some of Sunidhi’s drive to mentor others comes from her own experience finding her way. “We kind of had to Guinea pig our way through everything,” she says, describing the way that she and her family have approached her goal of being a doctor. Both of her parents are immigrants from India and she is the oldest child, trying to forge a path through a very different educational system.  As she’s progressed—and continued to teach others—that path has become more and more clear.

“I don’t know anything else I can do,” she says. “Medicine is what I love.”

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Interested in being a ChemMentor? Applications for the 2016-2017 school year will be accepted this coming Spring. Students who have earned an A or A- in their chemistry courses are eligible to apply. Selected mentors are required to enroll in Chem 392R, the Chem Mentor training course. Dr. Tracy McGill says: “Chem Mentors is an exciting opportunity for undergraduate students to develop their leadership skills, work with their peers, deepen their understanding of chemistry concepts, and build relationships with faculty mentors.” Contact Dr. McGill or Dr. Mulford with questions.

 

 

Photo Gallery: ChEmory Visits the Georgia Bureau of Investigation

 

ChEmory students visited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday, October 26th. Asma Syed (EC ’19) provided the following report:

The forensics tour was a success: very informative, and great for recent Emory graduates majoring in chemistry looking for a job right out of college or just for people (like myself) really interested in learning more about the forensic sciences!

We were given a tour of the Division of Forensic Science where we learned about the most common illegal substances used in the Atlanta area. We were shown impressive sequencing machines, areas where TLC techniques were performed, and we learned about gas chromatography-mass spectrometry machines. We learned about the process involved with testing materials to determine the substance composition, the purity, and the age. We also learned a lot about the job application process and the training required to be a field agent. My personal favorite part of the tour was getting to see a recent case: we passed by a room with 2000 pounds of marijuana in bags that was being analyzed for prosecution purposes. 

ChEmory Recognized with ACS Green Chapter Award

Advisor Doug Mulford speaks to ChEmory members at a recent GBM. Photo by Austin Kim.
Advisor Doug Mulford speaks to ChEmory members at a recent GBM. Photo by Austin Kim.

Emory’s American Chemical Society-affiliated undergraduate club, ChEmory, has been recognized as a Green Chemistry Student Chapter for the third year running. The award provides national recognition for ACS student chapters who have shown outstanding commitment to incorporating green chemistry into their annual activities. The judges praised ChEmory for their work drawing connections between traditional chemistry demonstrations and green chemistry ideas like pollution prevention and sustainable product design.

ChEmory also received an honorable mention for ACS Chapter-at-Large, placing them in the top fifteen percent of chapters across the country.

ChEmory kicked off the year with their first general body meeting on September 7th. ChEmory’s next event will be a coffee talk with Dr. Don Batisky, the Executive Director of Emory’s Pre-Health Mentoring Office taking place TODAY, Wednesday, September 21st at 5:30pm in Atwood 316. ChEmory members are invited to share coffee and conversation about approaching the pre-medical track through chemistry.

 

Chemistry Course “How Do We Know That? 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing” Featured by Emory News

Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.
Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.

Doug Mulford’s Fall 2016 course, “How Do We Know That? 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing”, has been featured by Emory News as a “critical” course offering a fresh perspective on high profile issues. From the article:

How Do We Know That? 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing

Instructor: Douglas Mulford, senior lecturer, Chemistry

Cool factor: What did Darwin actually say? Einstein? Mendel? Should we clone humans? Can chocolate cause weight loss? What is the placebo effect anyway and why do I care? Was Galileo just a really big nerd? (Yes!) The course will look at how humans learn by looking at the original words of scientists throughout history. Occasional demonstrations, explosions and liquid nitrogen ice cream provided.

Course description: This is not a science class but scientific learning will be the framework for this study. This discussion-based first-year seminar will focus on how humans have learned knowledge throughout the history. Discourse will examine humans’ ways of discovery by looking at 2,500 years of great science writing to discover how science is done and how human knowledge as a species grows.

Department and school: Chemistry in Emory College

[Full Article]

Chemistry Staff Recognized at the ECAS Service Awards

Stephenie Thioubou (center) received recognition for ten years of service at the 2-16 ECAS Service Awards. Photo by Emory University Department of Chemistry.
Stephenie Thioubou (center) received recognition for ten years of service at the 2016 ECAS Service Awards. Pictured with (l-r) Todd Polley, Felicia Allen, Ethel Ellington, Stefan Lutz. Photo by Emory University Department of Chemistry.

Chemistry staff were recognized for service milestones at yesterday’s Emory College of Arts and Sciences Service Awards held in the Science Commons Atrium. The awards were presented by interim Dean Michael Elliot. Bruster’s ice cream was served and each milestone awardee received an Emory blanket and a certificate in recognition of their years of service.

Milestone Awardees:

Yimin Wang (5 years)

Huanyu Zhao (5 years)

Stephenie Thioubou (10 years)

Demetra Jackson (15 years; Dean’s Office)

Bing Wang (15 years)

Joonbum Park (20 years)

Congratulations!

Dean Robin Forman (l) pictured with Tim Stephens.
Dean Robin Forman (l) pictured with Tim Stephens.

The event also offered ECAS staff an opportunity to thank Dean Robin Forman for his service before he leaves for a new position at Tulane.

 

Julia Gensheimer (EC ’19) Wins American Chemical Society T-Shirt Design Contest

The winning design!
The winning design!

Chemistry major Julia Gensheimer (EC ’19) won the 2016 American Chemical Society t-shirt design contest! Julia’s t-shirt will be produced and sold at the upcoming ACS national meeting in Philadelphia. Julia’s design was selected as one of six finalists and the winning design was chosen via online voting. Asked how she came up with her winning design, Julia said: “When the contest began, the chemical structures and lab techniques from a year of studying organic chemistry were fresh in my mind. Using ChemDraw, I created a simple design that I thought best represented the subject. It is exciting to share my love of chemistry with others through this t-shirt design and I am very thankful for the support!”

Thanks to all who voted. Congratulations, Julia!

[via ACS Matters]