St. Ambrose junior James Hay caught the attention of U.S. chemists with his findings from the 2020 SAU Undergraduate Summer Research Institute, leading to an honored invitation to present in the undergraduate poster session at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
His poster, Greener Synthesis of 1,8-dipyridyl-3, 6-di-tert-butyl carbazole, reflected the six weeks of research he conducted side-by-side with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Alec Brown, PhD, who specifically asked Hay to help verify if there is a less toxic and less expensive way to improve that specific molecule. Also, Hay assisted on a proof of concept to modify the molecule and make new compounds.
"The amount of research we were able to accomplish and work through was a nice achievement," Brown said. "And doing an ACS undergraduate poster session is a really good stepping stone for James."
The ACS meeting was held earlier this month, and on April 28, Hay presented his poster at the St. Ambrose Undergraduate Scholars Conference. However, his research is far from over. He'll be assisting Brown again this summer.
"I saw it as a possible career path. I've always wanted to do research of some sort in the chemistry field," Hay said. "And, while I was doing the research, it really dawned on me that I could make research a career. It was reinforcing what I've always wanted to do."
Chemistry is a field that fits his strength – problem-solving – and challenges him as well.
"I find research interesting because you start out with a plan, an idea of where you want to go, and sometimes things work out and you get to the place you wanted when you started," Hay said. "But sometimes it doesn't work out 100 percent the way you set out. You never know if you are actually going to complete it, and if you don't, then you get to start all over and find a different solution to the problem."
During the Undergraduate Summer Research Institute (USRI), he dove deeper into that process than most students, something he hopes will stand out on his graduate school applications. A chemistry lab course may only last three hours and meet once a week, but Hay was spending up to eight hours a day in the lab with Brown, setting up reactions that took up to 24 hours. He also ran data and learned new techniques.
"The research is a real-world experience, and James got to see that it was very different than what labs are academically," Brown said. "It is an opportunity to get into the lab and gain confidence, explore problems, closely interact with a professor, build problem-solving skills, and learn a lot of chemistry that we never would be able to discuss, for the most part, in our undergraduate courses. This is advanced, graduate-level reactions and approach to chemistry," Brown added.