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Undergraduate Research Program Takes Students' Studies to New Levels

Undergraduate Research Program Takes Students' Studies to New Levels

Posted: September 25, 2019

One of the most rewarding and exciting research opportunities at SUNY Buffalo State College is the undergraduate summer research fellowship, a program that supports students as they pursue eight weeks of full-time research, scholarly, or creative activities.

Carleigh Cimmerer, a senior honors student majoring in forensic chemistry with a minor in criminal justice, was named a recipient of the fellowship this year. Through collaboration with a professor, she has made profound discoveries not only within her areas of study but also in her academic journey as a whole.

Cimmerer recently shared her experiences in the program, including breakthroughs, challenges, and reasons why other students should also fortify their academic experiences with research projects.

Q. Please tell us about your summer research project.
My summer research project was actually a continuation of my professor and adviser, Jinseok Heo's, research that he has conducted for the past two summers with other students through the same program; therefore, my research this past summer was expanding on his previous research and testing a new theory, developed from his previous work. We used an instrument, the Raman spectrometer, which uses a laser light to shine through any sample we place under it. It's able to detect the sample based on the way it reflects the light. Our research focused on the use of gold nanoparticles and their ability to enhance the signal of very weak concentrations of dye solutions when the nanoparticles were quickly frozen with liquid nitrogen (QFIAA solution) and then thawed to room temperature. My specific research tested different capping agents on the nanoparticles and how that might affect the strength of the signal we would get, while testing numerous dyes of different charges. 

Q. Is this the first major research project you've worked on?
This is the second major research project I have worked on. In the spring of 2019, I worked with Jamie Kim and another student, Eric Frauenhofer, by doing mostly data analysis calculations from the data they were able to receive on the gas chromatography mass spectrometer, another large analytical instrument. That research I was not as involved in because I came in during their research, but I was still able to help with the analysis of their results.

Q. What have been some of the highlights of your research?
I can honestly say that the experience as a whole was very rewarding and obviously was the highlight of my summer. The ability to do research like this without worrying about other schoolwork was very gratifying because I could devote all of my time and attention to understanding the research and the reason we followed the methods we did. Although, one of the highlights of my research was using the liquid nitrogen to freeze my samples, not that any part of my research was boring, honestly. That was definitely one of my favorite procedures to follow.

Q. Who is a faculty or staff member who motived or inspired you?
Throughout my research, Heo was very helpful, as he was my adviser for the summer program. We would have daily meetings, either in the morning or afternoon, to go over my findings or just discuss what I should work on further, which was always very motivating and made me wish I had more time this fall semester to have continued research with him.

Q. How has participating in the undergraduate summer research fellowship program helped you to fulfill academic or personal goals?
As much as lab work during the school semester and classes is helpful for learning material, this research program was just more hands on and informative than any class during the semester could have been. Being able to focus on one project for the entire summer allowed me to critique and perfect some of my laboratory skills, like keeping a laboratory notebook professionally, and become more familiar with the Raman instrument that not many undergraduate students at any college get the opportunity to work with.

Regarding my personal goals, I would love to work in a forensic crime laboratory analyzing evidence that were to come in. I am not sure exactly what department I want to work with, so any research just provides me with more eye-opening opportunities about the kind of work that I do want to be doing after I graduate. 

Q. Were there any challenges to overcome with this project?
The first month of research was devoted to optimizing our procedure so that we could obtain the most consistent results, and that it would work for all of the other capping agents and dyes that we were to test throughout the summer. I found it challenging because it did take us a month to truly find this procedure before we could even move forward with testing the other materials we had. Although once the procedure was optimized, the rest of the researched flowed very smoothly.

Q. What would be your top three "selling points" to encourage other students to take advantage of an undergrad research opportunity?

  1. It allows you to be hands on and more involved in your major. That gives you experiences that you would not be able to gain from just the classroom. Even though I was on campus all summer, the individual work was very rewarding.
  2. You get one-on-one experience with your professor. They take note when you want to do undergrad research, and they are there to help you get where you want to in life because they genuinely care. Getting closer to the professor allows them to be a resource for you to use after graduation. Heo asked me one of the first days where I want to work or what I want to do in the future. Just being in a lecture does not bring that individuality that professors want to see in order to become a resource for you out in your field.
  3. If you do the undergraduate summer research fellowship, it is full-time, paid research, which is nice because you still technically have a part-time job, but you don’t feel guilty over the summer about devoting so much time to research while you’re there. Because I know summer is the time when most students work to save money for the semester.

Photos by Bruce Fox, college photographer

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