UMSL student awarded research grant to study molecules

UMSL student Hung Nguyen received a College of Arts and Sciences Research Grant to study molecules. (Photo by Alicia Hottle-Sippy)

While $1,000 in research funding might not sound like a significant amount, to Hung Nguyen, a senior at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, it’s practically a windfall.

“In the grand scheme of things it’s not a lot of money. But it’s a lot to me,” said Nguyen, a double major studying English and chemistry and a student in the Pierre Laclede Honors College at UMSL. “It shows that what I do actually matters. I felt really happy that the university and the College of Arts and Sciences believed enough in my research to put their money on it.”

Nguyen was one of six undergraduates to receive a $1,000 College of Arts and Sciences Research Grant. The college created the grant program last year in order to promote undergraduate research. A faculty and student review committee selected six undergraduates to receive funds to help them complete their research activities.

Nguyen’s project, “Systematic Study of Photoresponsive Structure-Behavior Relationships in Cyanometalates,” deals with manipulating particular features of a molecular system to adjust the temperature or wavelength of light at which certain magnetic properties of the system switch on or off. The goal is to assemble a library of structures which correlates particular structural features with observed behaviors. It’s hoped that the information gained from this study would enable researchers to design materials with more control and efficiency than is currently possible.

Nguyen said having a university that supports student research is a big pat on the back and a big morale booster.

“I hope the College of Arts and Sciences continues to give out these awards,” he said, “not because we’re going to cure cancer or make some big breakthrough this summer with the money, but because we’re going to make some progress and further the field for all of us.”

Nguyen’s project adviser is Stephen Holmes, associate professor of chemistry at UMSL. The two first collaborated when Nguyen, at the time a recent high school graduate, worked as a research scientist in Holmes lab through the SEED project, which gives disadvantaged high school students the opportunity to do hands-on chemistry research at UMSL. The program is sponsored by the American Chemical Society, Sigma Aldrich and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UMSL. Juniors and seniors who have completed basic chemistry work alongside their scientist-mentors on research projects, learning about the process of science as well as possible ­­­‑‑‑career paths in the field.

In addition the College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award, Nguyen was awarded the Outstanding Junior Chemistry Student award in April by the St. Louis section of the American Chemical Society. The award is given annually to one outstanding student on each of several university campuses in the St. Louis area, according to a story published in The Current.

Five other students in the College of Arts and Sciences won research grants: Sean Cristea for “Investigation of Methods to Predict DNA Curvature in Viral Genomes,” Serene Darwish for “Identifying contact zones in Guyana for great kiskadee populations through differences in unlearned loud songs,” Eleni Goranitis for “The Effects of the Alzheimer’s Amyloid-Beta Protein on the Inflammatory Response,” Bojana Opacic for “Overexpressing IAA biosynthesis rescues mutants with low IAA phenotypes” and Matthew Queensen for “New Chiral Organometallic Iron Catalysys for C-C and C-Si Bond Forming Reactions.”


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