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Project Seed - Summer 2010 Report

October 15, 2010

Summer 2010 Report of Project Seed at University of South Carolina ,

June 14 to August 17, 2010

Prof. Chuanbing Tang Coordinator & Mentor 

Overall Plan and Outcome

Economically disadvantaged students are a pool of students who are often neglected in our education system. In April 2010, American Chemical Society awarded a Summer I Project Seed to University of South Carolina (USC) to support two high school students from economically disadvantaged families for summer research. This is the first program awarded in the state of South Carolina for the last decade. Established in 1968, The ACS Project Seed program opens new doors for economically disadvantaged students to experience what it is like to be a scientist. Students entering their junior or senior year in high school are given a rare chance to work alongside scientist-mentors on research projects in laboratories, discovering new career paths as they approach critical turning points in their lives. There are large pools of economically disadvantaged African American and Hispanic family in the surrounding community of USC. For the first summer research (8-week Summer I program), Prof. Chuanbing Tang served as both a mentor and coordinator. He worked closely with Mrs. Regis A. Goode, a science teacher at Ridge View High School of Richland County District II of South Carolina. Two talented students, Laurentz Florit (Hispanic) and Adam Wirth, were identified and trained from June 14 to August 17. They worked in Prof. Chuanbing Tang’s research laboratory directly under Prof. Tang and two graduate students: Kejian Yao and Perry Wilbon. The projects involved the synthesis of green polymers from Gum Rosin, a renewable nature product from pine trees.  While executing these projects, students learned basic safety requirements in a modern chemistry laboratory through vigorous safety training. The students learned many basic organic systhesis skills and learned how to use some basic instruments to characterize molecules and polymers they synthesized. Students learned how to work as  team members through collaboration with graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and undergraduates. Students learned to improve their oral presentation and writing skills through participating in weekly group meetings and writing research reports. Students learned more about college applications through a field trip to the undergraduate admissions office.  Within the seed program, a coordinator assumes responsibility for operating the project seed program generally consisting of more than one mentor. For the first year, Prof. Chuanbing Tang worked as both a coordinator and mentor. For the first Project Seed, we received partial matching fund from USC NanoCenter ($1,000 for salary) and ACS South Carolina Section ($400 for supplies). Prof. Tang’s group covered all other costs.

Picture 1: High School Students Adam Wirth (Left) and Laurentz Florit (Right) were doing experiments in the laboratory of Prof. Chuanbing Tang at University of South Carolina.

Recruitment of SEED Students

Right after the project seed was awarded, a series of emails were sent to high school science teachers in the vicinity of the University of South Carolina campus. Finally, Mrs. Regis Goode, a science teacher at Ridge View High School, recommended two talented students. It was good to have two students from the same high school for the first project seed. Later it turned out that these two students knew each other, worked together and helped each other. They also commuted together. This really helped the transportation and saved the cost. 

Project SEED Participants

1. Students SEED I :  Laurentz Florit (Hispanic) Ridge View High School, Adam Wirth (White) Ridge View High School

2. Staff : 
Prof. Chuanbing Tang Chemistry Dept., Univ. of South Carolina Coordinator/Mentor Perry Wilbon PhD Student Mentor Kejian Yao PhD Student Mentor

Picture 2: Prof. Chuanbing Tang research group at University of South Carolina (with Adam Wirth and Laurentz Florit).

Research Undertaken: “Synthesis of Green Polymers from Gum Rosin

The projects were designed to let the students learn about the energy shortage and environmental concerns facing us every day. Most of synthetic plastics are made from petroleum chemicals, which are one of the major products from non-renewable fossil fuels. Renewable polymeric materials from natural resources have attracted significant attention due to their potential ability to reduce both the adversary environmental impact and our dependence on petroleum chemicals. We chose Gum Rosin as a target of renewable biomass, since it is the major product from pine resin obtained by tapping living pine trees, one of the most abundant trees, especially in South Carolina. By developing polymers from gum rosin, the students will have first-hand experience on how their research impacts the communities and society. Specifically, both students used a controlled polymerization technique called RAFT to prepare polymers with narrow molecular weight distribution. Slightly different is that Laurentz Florit used a methacrylate monomer while Adam Wirth used an acrylate monomer. During the later stage of the projects, they used each other’s polymers to prepare a block copolymer. During the 8-week summer program, they learned to work together and help each other. 

“Synthesis of rosin derived methacrylate polymers by RAFT”, Laurentz Florit* Mentor: Prof. Chuanbing Tang, Kejian Yao “Synthesis of rosin derived acrylate polymers by RAFT”, Adam Wirth* Mentor: Prof. Chuanbing Tang, Perry Wilbon

Field Trip

Both students made a visit to the USC undergraduate Admissions Office to become familiar with the overall process of applying for colleges. A consultant from the admissions office introduced general tips to impact the application and gave them some brochures on how to better prepare for colleges.  In addition, we also showed the students the campus and a variety of facilities. 

Picture 3: A visit to Undergraduate Admissions Office at University of South Carolina.

Sponsors for Project SEED

American Chemical Society, American Chemical Society South Carolina Section University of South Carolina Nanocenter

Rewards to Students

In addition to hands-on research learning, this program provided students with the opportunity to build a good working relationship with professors, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, who can provide career guidance, encouragement, and letters of recommendation for the college of their choice. During the course of the summer, the students developed laboratory skills as well as skills in written and oral communication. They learned to work as part of a team. They had chances to develop and demonstrate creativity and to discover that they can do scientific research.

USC NanoCenter Seed Scholarship

For the first project seed, USC Nanocenter provided $1,000 matching fund to support the program. Through further commitment from the USC NanoCenter, USC will initiate a NanoCenter Seed Scholarship when the seed program involves at least two mentors and four students. The cash award of $1,000 is given each year to an African-American student in the USC Project Seeds who is planning to major in chemistry, materials science, or chemical engineering. Over the next few years, the mentors will consist of faculty from the chemistry, physics, chemical engineering departments at USC, and probably science teachers from local high schools. Prof. Chuanbing Tang will also create a website with teaching materials pertaining to sustainable technologies, and use demonstration materials developed in this program to support such education.

Prof. Chuanbing Tang plans to expand this program to include 4-6 high school students and 2-3 faculty involved as mentors in 2011, 6-10 high school students and 3-5 mentors after 2011. Prof. Chuanbing Tang will continue to serve as a coordinator as well as a mentor for his own project. Each year in late April or May, an announcement of the project seed will be sent to 40 teachers in 10 nearby high schools. Underrepresented students (e.g. African- American or Hispanic) will be especially encouraged to participate the program.

Continued support is expected to come from USC, ACS South Carolina Section, NSF, and all participating mentors’ laboratories.