MBU Students Delve into Summer Research

June 29, 2018

Jessa Balough ’21 (left) and Bethany Taylor ’20 (right) investigate how chemicals like flame retardants degrade in consumer goods.

For many, summer is a time to relax or travel, but the season also gives MBU students more time to pursue research projects and work side-by-side with faculty.

Bethany Taylor ’20 received a 2018 General Program Undergraduate Science Research Fellowship from the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges (VFIC) and Jessa Balough ’21 earned an MBU Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Both students are working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Peter Ruiz-Haas.

Jessa Balough ’21 (left) and Bethany Taylor ’20 (right) investigate how chemicals like flame retardants degrade in consumer goods.
“I am interested in pursuing graduate school in environmental chemistry. So this is not only interesting, but also extremely relevant to my future goals.”
Rising Sophomore Jessa Balough

Taylor and Balough are researching the destruction of novel plasticizers and flame retardants in many consumer goods.

“I wanted to work on this project because I have enjoyed all of my exposure thus far to analytical and environmental chemistry,” Taylor said. “There could not have been a more perfect summer opportunity.”

Ruiz-Haas has built expertise in this area, and he asks students to follow up on collected data and improve or expand it.

“These students have been highly motivated and talented, and they have excelled in their coursework to date,” Ruiz-Haas said.

Expanding Ruiz-Haas’ work was a natural project choice for Balough. “I decided to research the degradation of BPF under UV light because I am interested in pursuing graduate school in environmental chemistry,” she said. “So this is not only interesting, but also extremely relevant to my future goals.”

Emma Rhodenizer ’19 studies memristors, a type of nanotechnology.

Emma Rhodenizer ’19 received an MBU Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and begins working with Associate Professor of Physics Nadine Gergel-Hackett in mid-July.

“I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the physics behind novel technologies,” Rhodenizer said, “as well as learn more in general about working in a lab and doing independent research.”

Nanotechnology is a key research area in the physics department, for both Gergel-Hackett and her students. “It’s an investigation into new nanotechnology, specifically something called a memristor,” Rhodenizer said. “Memristors are a new type of computer memory storage that uses much less power than traditional computer memory.”

“Emma possesses a trait that is extremely beneficial for successful undergraduate research: intrinsic motivation,” Gergel-Hackett said. “In addition to having the technical background required for this work, she is clearly truly interested in the topic and takes initiative in all aspects of the project from the initial design to final results.”

Outcomes vary for each student — some publish papers with their professor while others choose to get a head start on their senior Capstone projects — but all MBU students come away from summer research projects with an advantage when applying for jobs or grad schools.

“Emma possesses a trait that is extremely beneficial for successful undergraduate research: intrinsic motivation.”
Nadine Gergel-Hackett, associate professor of physics