July 8, 2016 at 3:30pm
Dane Lisser

Project SEED takes research experience to new heights

Millikin University's Chemistry Department in the College of Arts and Sciences is giving back to the community by providing research opportunities for economically disadvantaged local high school students.

Through the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Project SEED summer research program, two high school chemistry students are participating in research activities alongside Millikin chemistry students and faculty in the Leighty-Tabor Science Center from June 6 – Aug. 5.

Project SEED

On March 25, the ACS Project SEED summer research program awarded Millikin University $5,000 in fellowship funds. The Decatur-Springfield Local Section of the American Chemical Society provided $750 this year with the remaining $4,250 coming from the National ACS Project SEED Office. Each student will work eight full-time weeks and earn a $2,500 stipend.

Students Connor Dickey from Decatur, Ill., and David Bruns from Rosamond, Ill., were selected for the program. Connor is entering his junior year in high school and Bruns is starting his senior year.

"We hope that the students will become interested in the research and that their ACT scores will improve in certain areas," said Dr. Anne Rammelsberg, Millikin associate professor of chemistry. "We also hope they learn what it takes to get a college degree and develop skills that are necessary for science."

Project SEED

The students are continuing a research project from a year ago where they'll study hollow nanoparticles, specifically bunches of silver atoms coated with clumps of gold atoms, to see if they can one day be injected into tumors to destroy cancer from the inside out without harming healthy tissue.

"The students are learning how to make nanoparticles and liposomes, and we're looking for a new way to detect whether or not our opening system is working," Dr. Rammelsberg said.

Funding from a Performance Learning Enhancement Grant (PLEG) is giving four Millikin students the opportunity to work on the research project alongside the high school students. The Millikin students include: Cherese Hamp, a senior chemistry major from Chicago, Ill.; Justin Thrall, a senior chemistry major from Plainfield, Ill.; Mason Jett, a junior biology major from Hoopeston, Ill.; and Cece Cortez, a junior biology major from Alsip, Ill.

Project SEED

"Both students are very enthusiastic, it's great to teach them and show them something new," Mason Jett says. "It's a really good hands-on experience for them, myself and the other mentors because we're using science techniques on a daily basis."

To be eligible for the Project SEED program, students must meet specific academic and family income requirements, and demonstrate the potential to work in a chemical laboratory. Students entering their junior or senior year in high school and who have completed at least one high school chemistry course were eligible to apply.

"It's a different experience than what you get from a high school class because you have different resources and materials," Conner Dickey says. "I'm learning how to use different tools and I'm getting a real lab experience."

Project SEED

Dr. Rammelsberg noted, "The other goal is to help prepare them for presenting their work at science fair competitions. There are a fair amount of science research competitions for high schools where they can win scholarships and other rewards that might inspire them to stick with science and pursue college degrees."

On Aug. 5, an ACS Local Section meeting will be held where the students will present their work to families, teachers and interested chemistry professionals in the area.

"The program can make a big difference," Dr. Rammelsberg says. "It can provide guidance and it gives the students a chance to see what they want to do."

Three high school students participated in last year's Project SEED summer research program at Millikin, and of the three students, two will be enrolling in four-year schools next fall.