WSC research prepares student for NSF opportunity
Devoting the summer to scientific research isn’t every student’s cup of tea. But chemistry major Wyatt Merrill ’11 thoroughly enjoyed his 10-week research position at Boston University this summer, where he focused on the fluorescent properties of gold nanoparticles (compounds roughly the equivalent of a billionth of an inch).
Merrill was one of 10 students chosen from more than 500 competitors for the B.U. positions, which were funded through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. Approximately 50 universities across the country participate in the program each summer.
“It’s a very competitive process,” explained Merrill, who has a double minor in mathematics and physics. “The fact that I have done research at Worcester State was a big factor. I was also lucky in that my skills matched what the researchers were looking for. The lab was already set up and they wanted people with a strong foundation in physical chemistry, which is very math intensive.”
Merrill’s research involved manipulating small flourophores, otherwise known as quantum dots. Researchers coated nanoparticles with gold and then adjusted the parameters to determine how the distance and size of the coating affects brightness.
“We were studying the physics behind it. When you get down to the nano scale, physics starts to change,” Merrill said. He explained the change as a shift from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics, which focuses on particles, molecules, and atoms.
“Our research will be used to create super bright LED [light emitting diodes] lamps, medical devices, and anything that can be improved with fluorescent enhancements,” Merrill said.
To prepare for the project, he began by reading a number of articles on the topic. “It was definitely a challenge,” he admitted. “It was important to understand what other people have done, but most of the articles are not written in a way that’s kind to someone who is just getting started. It can take hours to get through a couple of pages.”
He was fortunate to be working with a post-doctorate student who served as a mentor in the initial stages of the research. As time went on, he was able to work as an independent member of the eight-member lab team, which included undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctorate students. His 10-week project culminated in a poster presentation detailing his research and he expects the project to be published next year.
“What I did was a small piece of bigger picture,” Merrill said. “I completed what I was expected to complete, but I wished I had more time. I would like to look into some things. The thing about science is, the more work you do, the more questions crop up. The more work you want to do.”
Merrill said he felt well-prepared for his work at B.U., in part because of research he has done with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Eihab Jaber, Ph.D.
Jaber noted, “Giving students an opportunity for hands-on research is a priority in our department. It puts them in a strong position when they apply for graduate school or enter the workplace.”
For Merrill, who is planning to go to graduate school, doing research is all about the thrill of discovery. “I like the challenging nature of it,” he said. “It’s very interesting.”
Worcester Statement, fall 2009