On March 24, 2018, 11 students from Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind., met at 4:30 a.m. to travel to the 133rd annual meeting of the Indiana Academy of Science (IAS) in Indianapolis. The IAS conference brought representatives from colleges and universities throughout the state, including Indiana University, University of Indianapolis, Ball State University, Valparaiso University and Purdue University. Each participant came to present the research they had spent most of the year developing.
“All chemistry majors have to conduct research as part of their degree and they are strongly encouraged to present that research at the conference,” explained Dr. Chad Snyder, chair of the Grace College Department of Science and Mathematics and associate professor of chemistry. “Time spent at the conference can really open doors for students.” According to Snyder, the top benefits for students are networking with professors from graduate programs, collaborating with other students from around the state and building a bridge for their future.
This year, of the 12 research poster presentations in the chemistry section, four were from Grace College. Dr. Snyder was chosen to co-chair the chemistry section, and after a year, he will transition to chair of the chemistry section. “I want my researchers to be leaders within the scientific community,” Snyder explained, “and I want to model that as well.”
For Grace student Austin Steppe, the conference was a “big adventure,” and an opportunity to see Grace competitive with other, larger schools, and integrated into the statewide scientific community. For student John Marhefka, the most memorable part of the conference was being able to explain the work of his first semester to interested people. “I love helping others enjoy what I enjoy,” Marhefka said.
Grace students worked closely with professionals during their research and experimentation. Dr. Nathan Tice, a chemistry professor at the University of Findlay, collaborated with students on two projects. The first partnered students, Dr. Snyder and Dr. Tice with Dr. Joe Smith, director of animal programs at the Fort Wayne Zoo. The partnership began in 2016 to monitor the health of the African Journey Biome, which includes a large pond system. Each zoo animal is an investment of thousands of dollars, and the quality of the pond water is critical to the health of the animals. Students take samples from the zoo ponds and continually monitor the water quality.
The other project with Dr. Tice involves student work entirely in a lab. Student researchers are working to create synthetic organic molecules that function as semiconductors. These molecules have applications in electronics, creating organic LEDs or photo transmitters used in camera remotes and other wireless transmitters.
Snyder is also working on getting grants for a new project that would change the validity of gunshot analysis. Currently, gunshot analysis is inadmissible in court, as the trace metals from bullet casings can be acquired from other sources. Using a specific test and instrument, Snyder plans to search for organic trace elements that result from firing a gun and can be used to determine specific brands of casing.
While this marked just the second year that the Grace students attended IAS, Snyder plans to make it an annual event and an expectation for all Grace chemistry majors. Events like the conference generate excitement for science, Snyder explained, and while Grace has a history of high-quality teaching, the conference presentations show that research is held to the same standard. Snyder is also pleased that IAS has helped to make Grace College better known in the Fort Wayne and Indianapolis scientific communities. He hopes to only grow this notoriety in years to come. — from grace.edu