NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Although she technically completed a summer research experience a year ago, Bethel College student Amber Schmidt continues to reap the results.
The junior from Newton recently received word of publication of the third article in which she is listed as an author, and that stems from her summer 2015 research.
It’s rare for an undergraduate to get an article published from summer research, says Bethel Professor of Chemistry Gary Histand – much less three articles, much less being listed as first author (most significant contributor) on two of them.
In spring 2015, Schmidt, a 2014 Newton High School graduate, successfully applied for a prestigious REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which meant she got to do research in the chemistry labs at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton last summer.
As far as Bethel faculty could determine, Schmidt was the first Bethel student to earn this particular opportunity, though they routinely garner other REUs (there were four in summer 2016).
Schmidt is a chemistry major, which she says she pretty much knew she would be ever since she watched her NHS chemistry teacher, Phil Schmidt, “douse a T-shirt in liquid, then light it on fire, and it didn’t burn. It was the coolest thing I ever saw.”
She recently added a business major. “I could see managing a lab, or something like that,” she says.
In her NSF-REU cohort at UNT, Schmidt and eight other students from schools in Arkansas, California and Texas worked on “measuring the solubility of different compounds, both organic and inorganic, in different liquids.”
Schmidt’s mentor at UNT, Dr. William Acree, then chair of the chemistry department, “works with Abraham solvation model. It’s a long equation with all these variables, and we need to find certain ones so we can calculate the others.”
Using SPSS, a particular kind of computational software with which chemists process data, the students would plug in their data to get some of the variables they needed, calculate others and then test those in the lab.
In the first paper for which Schmidt was a co-author, the students used results of chemist Michael Abraham’s (for whom the solvation model is named) research and “put it into the computer to produce figures and logarithms that we analyzed and put into a paper,” Schmidt says.
“That was the first thing I did from Day 1 when I arrived at the lab. Dr. Acree had sent me several papers ahead of time that were way over my head. But when I got there, he sat me down and worked me through it.”
The second paper, Schmidt says, “was my favorite. We were working with isophthalic acid.”
The third paper, published earlier this month, detailed the results of a study where the group made formamide, a solvent for many ionic compounds. The group tested different substances to see how much of each the formamide would dissolve.
At the end of her REU last summer, “we had just finished the research. We had hard data but hadn’t run it through the SPSS software. We were pretty sure of the results but we had to validate it in the lab.”
The three articles were all published by Taylor & Francis Online (www.tandfonline.com), specifically in Physics and Chemistry of Liquids.
Schmidt notes there are “biomedical applications to some of this research.
“Some of the key variables we’re getting data for have implications for testing soil and water – so if there was a chemical spill in a lake, we could see how long it would take for that chemical to reach toxic level, to kill all the fish. Or for carbon black, what you use in home water filters, or in gas masks. We can measure the amount it takes to remove the contaminants – there’s a carbon black model [within] the Abraham model.
“There are implications for nasal sprays and eyedrops. It’s all about the amount [of the chemical] that’s safe, the concentration.”
She adds, “I like being in the lab. It’s fun. I like discovering new things, and I like figuring out what something won’t work and why.”
Publishing the papers were key for her chemistry future, she says.
“Short-term, it’s experience to help get ready for my chemistry senior seminar paper. Long-term, it will help me if I want to go to grad school and/or do research.
“The papers show I have a research background. They are crucial to getting your name out there and saying ‘I’ve done research, I know how to do it, I know what goes into it and I have what it takes to do it in the future.’”
“By being a listed author on the publication, Ms. Schmidt is being credited with having made a significant contribution to the work that was published,” says Histand.
“By being listed as the first author, Ms. Schmidt is, in the judgment of the people involved, believed to have made the most significant contributions to the work that was published.”
He continues, “Undergraduate students who participate in REU summer programs may be able to get a publication from the work they do, but this is not the norm – most will not get a publication from their work, and if they do, they are listed as a third, or fourth, or fifth, author.
“Ms. Schmidt now has three publications from one 10-week REU. She is listed as the first author on two of those. That shows she made a major contribution to this body of work in a very short time – extremely rare for undergraduate students.”