Dr. Stephanie Gould, assistant professor of chemistry at Austin College, has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the American Chemical Society to further her research on solid-state nanogears.
“I am thrilled,” Gould said. “This grant will allow me to hire six students, three per year for two years, to work on this research. Those are students we wouldn’t have been able to hire otherwise. It’s a fantastic opportunity for students; they’ll work hands-on in a lab with faculty.”
The grant is the first awarded to Austin College from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.
“American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund grants are open to most chemists and are extremely competitive,” said Mike Imhoff, vice president and dean of faculty at Austin College. “To my knowledge, Stephanie is the first chemist at Austin College to receive such a prestigious award. It is both a reflection of the scientific merit of her grant proposal and of her success as a research chemist. She is also an outstanding teacher, who in her short career at AC has positively influenced many science students.”
Gould’s research, “Synthesis of New Tunable Porous Coordination Materials to Demonstrate Geared Motion in Solid-State Materials,” focuses on building molecular “gears” for future use in nanotechnology.
“I’m trying to move our world from large scale machines, like bicycles, to molecular-scale machines, moving atoms at a time,” she said. Just like a mechanical gear, these molecular gears will have cogs that will turn and fit together.
“The smaller you can make a machine,” she said, “the more advanced the applications you can envision and create.”
The research is on the cutting-edge of solid-state chemistry. While gears that move in liquids exist, these would be the first crystal-based gears. Possible future uses could include highly targeted nanobots to deliver a cancer drug directly to malignant cells, protecting the healthy cells from damage.
It almost sounds like science-fiction. “We’re trying to figure out how much of science-fiction is real,” Gould said with a smile.
But the research is not her primary goal for this grant—she’s focused on providing opportunities for students to work directly in the laboratory, researching new scientific ideas that can be published and shared with the world.
“The research lab is where students are able to understand how to apply their coursework, and the real understanding of theories comes to practice,” she said. “We think they can apply the things they learn, this type of problem-solving, no matter what they do in the future.”
She currently has three student researchers for the summer, funded by a National Science Foundation grant that will expire in October. Just like the new grant, the NSF grant pays a stipend to each student for his or her summer work.
Junior Raven Clark of Burleson, Texas, is one of the researchers, developing base materials the nanogears could be made out of. “It’s exciting to be doing this kind of work as an undergraduate,” she said. She hopes to get an internship with a pharmaceutical company next summer to continue researching before she goes on to graduate school.
“You can’t go anywhere else and get the relationship with professors that we get here,” she said.
Her fellow summer student researchers are glad for the opportunity to work in the lab as well. Matt Nye, a junior from Dallas, Texas, is Raven’s laboratory partner, and hopes to continue research in a biomedical field in graduate school.
Senior Jon Payne of Texarkana, Texas, is working both with Gould and Brad Smucker, associate professor of chemistry, taking the materials developed by Raven and Matt and testing them for their ability to form in a paint that would convert solar power into energy.
“Jon may come up with the answer to solar energy,” said Matt, clearly enthusiastic about the work of his peers. Jon plans on attending medical school next year.
“A cool thing about our chemistry department is all of our students do research,” Gould said. “That’s really different from large research schools where only a limited number of undergraduate chemistry majors can participate in research.”