Research Experience for Undergraduates

Poster Presentation
Jennifer Miller presenting her poster.

At YSU STEM, we like to offer many different opportunities for our students, but sometimes it is important to encourage our students to go outside of their comfort zone and do something new. Recently, some of our students have come back from these fantastic opportunities, like Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).  REUs are summer programs that are highly competitive and take students far away from their home schools. We caught up with one of our returning students to see what she thought of the experience. Jennifer Miller, a junior Chemistry major, spent the summer at the University of Connecticut, researching with Dr. Jing Zhao.

YSU STEM: Tell me a little about your experience, like who you worked with, what you did.

Jennifer Miller: I was working with Dr. Jing Zhao, and I was working in her lab with her team of graduate students and undergraduate students. My project was the synthesis and characterization of alloyed quantum dots. That was an area of chemistry that I actually wasn’t very familiar with, so it was cool to get into something completely different.

It was a lot of fun, but it was definitely a lot at once for an REU program. It was a really good experience; I’m glad I did it.

YSU STEM: Walk me through your first couple days.

JM: Well the first day itself of the program was just an orientation. I met Dr. Zhao and met the students I would be working with…they gave an overview of ‘this is what the summer will be like.’ The second day was basically, ‘show up to the lab and get to work!’ The first few days was a lot of reading articles to get you some background on what we would be doing, and then I also started right away with synthesis.

YSU STEM: Can you explain to me the synthesis process?

JM: So, basically what I was doing was two projects. My main project was synthesizing quantum dots, so that was a colloidal synthesis so it was done at heat and everything was stirred together. That was just a lot of trying to find out what the right balance of reagents was and getting that figured out. That took most of the summer, and what I was trying to do was to tune the color of the dot to be used in different applications. I was also trying to coat the quantum dots in silica, which was a separate synthesis, that way they could be used in biological applications because quantum dots themselves are toxic to the body, but coating them in silica reduces this toxicity.

YSU STEM: With what you learned this summer, how do you think you’ll be able to apply it to your last few years at YSU and in your future?

JM: I think really this summer taught me not to be afraid to take risks because like many YSU students, I’m a commuter. So, I live at home. I live 15 minutes away from school. YSU is a small school and I know all of my chemistry professors. I know where everything is at, and when I go into the lab, I know exactly where all the chemicals are. This was hours and hours away from home; I was living with a roommate, which I had never done before; working in a lab that was completely different; and doing chemistry that was completely different. It was completely out of my comfort zone, but I like that it pushed me and that I was able to rise to the occasion.

We really enjoyed sitting down with Jennifer and hearing all about her experiences at the University of Connecticut. Congratulations on your nomination to attend the National REU Symposium in Virginia this fall.

If you would like more information on REUs and the application process, please contact Marie Meeks!