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BC Undergrads Win Prestigious Summer Research Scholarships

Heights Editor

Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

This year, two Boston College students, Casey Brodsky, A&S ’14, and Benjamin Reiner, A&S ’13, received Norris Richards Undergraduate Summer Research Scholarships. Granted by the American Chemical Society (ACS), the largest academic society in the United States, these prestigious awards are given to only four students from the northeastern area each year.

The northeastern section of the ACS website dictates that each winner is required to submit a report of their summer projects by Oct. 26 for publication in The Nucleus. Additionally, winners are required to participate in the Northeast Student Chemistry Research Conference this coming April.    
Brodsky and Reiner were competing against students in a notably competitive region of the country, including students from Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Brown. Their outstanding academic achievement, coupled with the state of the art research they have been working on, has led to the acknowledgement of their success.

Reiner has been working in the lab of Jeffery Byers, assistant professor of chemistry, on a project involving small complex molecule synthesis. He and the other members of his research team are seeking a transition metal-mediated rearrangement reaction that will be useful for assembling simple organic compounds to more sophisticated molecules useful in the pharmaceutical industry.

Reiner equated his work with a builder constructing a house. A construction worker must harbor the necessary tools to create a building.

“We’re building a scaffold to synthesize larger molecules that can be extremely beneficial,” Reiner said. “We are building new synthetic tools.” His overarching hope is to build high molecular complexity very quickly, which subsequently generates economical as well as chemical benefits.

“We’re building on a previous motif in hopes of expanding chemical, economic and environmental benefits and advantages,” Reiner said.

Reiner has been working on his project all summer and will continue his research all semester. Not surprisingly, he has gained a great deal of insight into a potential career in chemistry.

“What struck me the most over the summer was how you need to tell your chemistry in a narrative fashion,” Reiner said. “If you can’t make it tangible or accessible or interesting, it detracts from the science. That’s something I never expected.”
Reiner’s next step is to apply to graduate school. He would like to stay in Boston and pursue a doctoral career in organic chemistry, in hopes of eventually becoming a professor in chemistry.

“Ben joined my group when we literally had nothing,” Byers said. “His success in the lab is a testament to the diligence and attention to detail that he has demonstrated. He deserves all the accolades that come his way.”
Brodsky has had her attention focused on a separate project in the laboratory of Frank Tsung, assistant professor of chemistry. She and her team have been working on manipulating the composition and atomic surface structure of nanoparticles in order to create catalysts that are very active for necessary fuel cell reactions. Her research focuses on creating bimetallic nanoparticles composed of palladium and rhodium, two metals that have proven to be very catalytically active.

Working with Tsung, Brodsky and the rest of the research group have compared the effects of different surface structure and metallic composition on catalytic activity, with the ultimate goal of finding the most advantageous metals to be used as catalysts.

“Casey Brodsky is an outstanding undergraduate researcher,” Tsung said. “Her work in my group will bring a great impact to this research field. I strongly believe she will be an amazing scientist in the future.”
Brodsky’s research is interesting partially due to the fact that rhodium has not been studied extensively. By publishing information on how to make the structures and whether or not they work for different applications, Brodsky hopes that future scientists will build on her foundation in the production of fuel cells.

“The most exciting news is that we have recently submitted our first 10-page paper to The Journal of The American Chemical Society, which has been the culmination of our project,” Brodsky said.

“I learn more in the lab than I do in class because it’s real applications and solving problems on my own rather than learning what other people have already done,” Brodsky said. “I hope to continue doing research through the end of school and in graduate school."

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