The John Stauffer Charitable Trust has awarded a $500,000 matching challenge grant to establish an endowed fund for student research in chemistry at Harvey Mudd College (HMC).
When fully funded, the John Stauffer Fund for the Harvey Mudd College Summer Research Program in Chemistry would total $1 million and provide funding for student researchers in chemistry participating in the college’s Summer Research Program.
“This opportunity has put faculty in an ebullient mood,” said Hal Van Ryswyk, chemistry professor and chair of the HMC Department of Chemistry. “This grant will allow us to substantially expand our long-running summer research program wherein 25 to 30 students work hand-in-hand with HMC chemistry faculty each summer. We will be able to offer research opportunities to more of our students, especially those in their first two years of study. Since this grant establishes an endowment, the impact will be abiding.”
Since 1960, when an early grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) allowed six HMC chemistry students to undertake research during the summer, the summer research enterprise has grown dramatically in terms of student and faculty participation and in the sophistication of the research carried out.
Summer research at HMC has spread across the college and now includes two NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs and more than 100 research projects each year funded by federal agencies, private foundations and corporations, individual donors and college sources. One hundred eighty student researchers took part in summer research in 2008 with faculty mentors.
Projects – including the development of a neurally-controlled prosthetic, the examination of a wound-healing chemical found in shrimp shells, an investigation into the collective behavior of insects, synthesis of anti-inflammatory plant products and the implementation of algorithms that identify sketches drawn on tablet computers – now span the fields of biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics and physics, and offer unique hands-on experience both on campus and around the world.
“The chemistry department and the college should be proud that all of our students have the opportunity to do research with faculty,” said Gerald Van Hecke ‘61, associate dean for administration who oversees the Summer Research Program. “This is by no means true across the country even for some of the more prestigious institutions. Our students do publishable research that more often than not appears in peer-reviewed journals.”
The Stauffer Trust, located in Pasadena, Calif., is a longtime supporter of science education at Southern California colleges and universities. It was established by prominent Los Angeles industrialist John Stauffer, who founded the Stauffer Chemical Company. The Trust recently announced a special interest in supporting research in chemistry.
HMC’s student and faculty research is funded from a variety of sources, including grants from government agencies and private donors. However, even with increased funding from donors and college sources, student interest exceeds the availability of funds for research stipends, supplies and equipment.
Endowed research funds are especially valuable because they provide a stable, sustainable source of money for this purpose.
In making this grant, the trustees of the Stauffer Trust expressed their recognition “that summer research is the primary means of providing students with an extended experience in faculty-mentored research.”
The grant also ties into several of the six themes making up HMC’s strategic vision, “HMC 2020: Envisioning the Future,” which was adopted in 2006:
* Innovation, leadership and impact, especially in engineering, science and mathematics
* Focus on experiential and interdisciplinary learning
* Unsurpassed excellence and diversity at all levels
* Nurturing and developing the whole person
* Global engagement and informed contributions to society
* Improvement of infrastructure and resources to support HMC’s commitment to excellence and building community
Like all of HMC’s academic departments involved in summer research, the Department of Chemistry has had a number of exceptional projects over the years. Most recently:
Karen Brown ’08 worked on the synthesis of davanone, a natural oil occurring in the aromatic herb Artemisia pallens that has antifungal and antispasmodic properties. Brown set out to make the desired oil product not only in high yield, but to produce the correct enantiomer, or version. For molecules like davanone, it is possible to produce two different molecules that are mirror images of each other, but only one has the desired properties. Brown, who is currently a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Illinois, presented her work at the 2008 American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans. She subsequently won Goldwater and NSF fellowships at HMC.
Katie Mouzakis ’07 studied how the hOGG1 (pronounced “hog one”) enzyme repairs damaged bases in human DNA. She found that certain cancerous tissues have a different version of hOGG1 that is less effective than that in healthy tissue. Specifically, Mouzakis, who is now a graduate student studying biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found two variants where the hOGG1 enzyme was less effective due to decreased protein stability. When she presented her findings in 2007 at a Keystone Symposium in Breckenridge, Colo., she and Janina Moretti ’07 were the only two undergraduates at the meeting with more than 700 scientists. Mouzakis’ work has since been submitted for publication.
Whitney Duim ’05 worked on a range of renewable and environmentally friendly surfactants that form a range of nanostructures useful for drug delivery, environmental cleanup and cosmetics formulations. Her goal was to create a phase diagram, or overall road map, for the creation of the desired nanostructures. Duim presented a poster of her work, which was supported by a Beckman Fellowship, on Capitol Hill in January 2005 to members of Congress. HMC’s first Gates Cambridge Scholar, Duim enrolled in the Ph.D. program in chemistry at Stanford University following her studies at Cambridge.
In addition to the experiential learning HMC students get from summer research, the program offers a number of professional development activities, including workshops on how to make oral and poster presentations, sessions with a librarian regarding electronic access to information, formal lab safety classes, a lecture series on topics of general interest given by HMC faculty and staff members, and industry tours to local firms and laboratories.
This past summer, tours were set up to visit Beckman Coulter, Three Valleys Municipal Water District, The Rand Corporation and South Coast Air Quality Management District.
During previous years, tours took students to sites including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a Chevron refinery, Raytheon, Qualcomm and Amgen.
“The Stauffer Foundation’s challenge grant represents an extraordinary opportunity for HMC to address a key component of our strategic plan,” said Marc L. Archambault, vice president of HMC’s Office of College Advancement. “Starting with the chemistry department, we plan to expand and enhance our summer research programs. For the benefit of our students, it’s our goal to try to complete this $1 million challenge as quickly as possible.”
“Building upon our recent success with key leadership donations to the college, we’ll be asking our closest friends to make a meaningful investment in this challenge, through commitments on the order of $50,000 or more, paid over several years,” Archambault added. “While we work to build this endowment, I encourage donors who are interested in supporting summer research programs with smaller, current-year gifts to do so through the Annual Fund, which provides equally essential and even more immediate support for the coming summer’s group of students.”