An area university has selected a Vale resident with a nose for science to be the first to participate in a new research program.
“One of the goals of undergraduate research is to foster scholarship that goes beyond the classroom; it can start there, but the program is to affirm the idea of doing something for the absolute love of it — which is what he’s getting to do,” Director of Undergraduate Research at Gardner-Webb University June Hobbs told the Times-News this week.
Hobbs and her committee chose Jeremy Griffin, a chemistry and biology double major, as the Boiling Springs-based university’s first summer research scholar.
Through the program, Griffin is completing research on a project, while living in a campus apartment and setting his own 40 hour a week schedule to work on his idea.
He is working side-by-side with Associate Professor Dr. David Judge – an aspect of the program designed to allow students and professors to work together on an experiment outside of classroom boundaries.
For the last three weeks, the team has been working on discovering what chemical combination gives ginger products their flavor and odor through a process called high performance liquid chromatography. Judge, as his mentor, has shown him the basics as they progress through the process.
“The project has them do the research in the project, where they’re actually doing it; they see the whole spectrum of what scientists do at the larger level,” Judge said. “(Through the project) students are actively starting to behave as professionals.”
After receiving an email about the summer research opportunity, Griffin decided his project that won him first place at a North Carolina Academy of Science meeting held earlier this year would be a good persuasion point to write about.
Carefully explaining aspects of what he would be working on, from a budget standpoint to in-lab plans for his research, Griffin pitched his idea.
Griffin’s proposal was clear, concise and showed his personality and dedication to his idea, Hobbs said. She and her team were able to clearly identify his objectives and what he was going to do with the undivided attention he would be giving his project over the summer.
Griffin, having previously completed preliminary work by working with Judge for the last year on the project, and knowing his subject matter down to a science, thinks that may have been a contributor to his selection as the first-ever recipient.
Though the footwork has been rigorous, as the team strives to get its research published, Griffin and Judge are both confident their efforts may prove for a better method than other research available now.
“What’s novel about our project is the method of extraction – coming up with a new way to isolate chemicals to look at,” Griffin said. “It will hopefully be better than what is already out there.”
As Griffin explains, the process is one of separating chemicals based on certain factors, such as polarity, and using a detector at a certain wavelengths to discover those chemicals.
Each week, Griffin and Judge put together a game plan for what they will be working on next, without getting too ahead of themselves. Unseen circumstances or delays may force them to tweak the original schedule they had in mind, but they generally have an idea of what they’ll be doing in upcoming weeks.
The final outcome of the project is unknown as the team continues to work through trial-and-error in their procedure, however, the resource of the experience has left Griffin in better shape for his long-term goals in the chemistry field.
“I gained so much more experience than I could ever get in a classroom,” Griffin said. “I want to go to grad school and will have to get into that research lifestyle. This is a good opportunity to get acclimated with what research will be like in grad school.”
Griffin hopes his work will be published – a trophy to show off to prospective graduate schools he will be looking into post-Gardner-Webb.
Making this project his full-time job has been rewarding for him so far, noting the only aspect he would change is the time element. The extra time provided to him to work on his idea has given him the opportunity to be more meticulous with the project and to hone in on details he wouldn’t have been able to during class time, Griffin said.
Griffin started the program at the end of May and will be wrapping up later this month.
Hobbs hopes the scholarship will grow, and within five years would like to see 10 summer research scholars selected rather than just one.
“One of the things I had in mind (when creating the scholarship) was that for it to help the university achieve its mission statement, which is all about scholarship in the pure sense, not just earning a degree,” Hobbs said.
“We want them to get an education, but the primary way to get students an education is to create life-long learners. This project gives the finest students the opportunity to do some work that will get them in to good graduate schools to later get better jobs; it’s a way to show that Gardner-Webb is concerned with educating the whole person.”