Lyon College senior math and chemistry major Morgan Webb has been selected as one of just ten students in the nation to present the work she did last summer at this spring’s American Chemical Society National Conference and Exposition in New Orleans. As part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, Webb worked with Dr. Gregory Tschumper in computational and theoretical chemistry at Ole Miss, simulating molecular interactions on a computer for much of the summer. Webb’s REU experience also resulted in her attending the Conference on Current Trends in Computational Chemistry in Jackson, MS with her research group where she presented on their summer research and received first place for undergraduate presentation.
“I was not interested in computational chemistry at all, initially, but I got an email from Dr. Tschumper, saying my background in math and physical chemistry would be a good fit for his lab,” Webb explained. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it was something different, and that’s really what a big part of the REU experience is – trying new things and deciding what you want to do for graduate school or your career. I went in thinking I wouldn’t like working on a computer over the summer; I wouldn’t like being out of an actual lab, but I actually really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the logic and the thought process that has to go into doing computation chemistry and the real understanding of what you’re telling the computer to do.”
Her work related to the creation of electronic devices using organic materials instead of inorganic ones like metals. The computer simulations illustrated how different materials would interact with each other when combined, and Webb studied those results to analyze the materials’ potential for use in electronics. If successful, this work will produce exciting benefits for both cell phone users and the environment. Webb says, “Organic electronics are cheaper than inorganic electronics. They are more sustainable since the organic materials in question are more naturally abundant than inorganic ones.”
After accepting this award, she will give a fifteen-minute oral presentation, answer questions about her research, and share her REU experience at the Chemistry Students at the Nexus: REU Award Winners symposium on March 20, 2018. This task may seem daunting, and Webb admits that she’s nervous. Luckily, Webb had some practice presenting during the summer; the REU program required that she present her work to her professor, fellow undergraduate students, and graduate students twice for critique. She says, “the REU programs are really good for making you feel comfortable presenting in a scientific domain, teaching you to be confident in what you know and to be able to relate that.”
REU programs exist at schools across the nation where undergraduates can intern in chemistry, biology, physics, math, and other subjects. At the end of each session, each instructor can nominate two students that they think did exceptional work or had an exception presentation to present at the American Chemical Society National Conference in the spring. Webb says, “I’m kind of baffled that I was chosen because I’m not a good public speaker…so I’m honored.”
The award also reimburses Webb for travel, registration, and housing costs associated with the symposium. She will join other award winners at a reception after her presentation, allowing her to meet the other students and learn about their research, something she especially looks forward to.
Webb is grateful not just for the award but also for the opportunity to participate in the REU program. She says, “It’s given me direction. I’ve wanted to go to graduate school, but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. Now I can say that I want to study not only physical chemistry but likely theoretical or even computational chemistry in the future.”
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