Capping off the summer in the chemistry lab

Capping off the summer in the chemistry lab

Posted by: on August 11, 2016   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

Welcome back, guys!

Well, the biologists won the wiffle ball game 11–10. I, however, think that the chemists had a better spirit, and we should have gotten bonus points for having professors participating on our team.

The last week of research consisted of finishing up summer trials and preparing for research in the fall semester. For many of the researchers, that also included preparing a poster to present at the 9th Annual RI SURF Conference. SURF, or the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, helps undergraduate researchers in Rhode Island fund their summer research, and most research students in Rhode Island come together with faculty and guests to share their work at the end of the summer. I presented my research last year and had a complete blast.

brianna-lastThis year, however, I did not make a poster for the conference (we’re saving our findings for the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco!), but I still made an appearance and learned what everyone was up to in Al Mag this summer. Here’s a picture of the chemistry kids wearing something other than sweatpants for the first time in two months.

I also learned about what the other departments were up to – from tracking circadian rhythms in rats to isolating predatory bacteria, Providence College researchers sure got a lot done!

To celebrate the success of the SURF Conference, Dr. Mulcahy invited the undergraduate research chemists, the professors, and their families to his house for a barbecue/potluck! Even though I made a poor showing by just bringing some lemonade, the day was filled with burgers, homemade guacamole, hot-pockets, and Oreo-themed dessert! We also managed to play a few rounds of Spike-Ball despite our incapacitated stomachs.

Then, unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to the summer crew; but a goodbye for scientists usually never lasts more than a few weeks! Unlike other fields of study where research occurs primarily in the summertime, research in Albertus Magnus continues year-round. I’ll continue my research with Dr. Breen as well; you won’t be able to kick me out of that lab until I graduate. Looking forward, I’m going to be researching how cell membranes interact with plastic nanoparticles, keeping in line with my ocean-themed research.

To cap off the summer, I’m going to leave you with an insight from one of our chemistry professors that I think captures the essences of what goes on in Friartown when the rest of campus has gone home: “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be research” – Dr. Overly

Research is all about reaching out into uncharted territory in creative and practical ways. You hardly ever know the answer or if there is going to be an answer; and sometimes that can get frustrating, but it’s a small price to pay for being a part of the community set to solve the world’s problems and uncover mysteries that the Earth has left buried for us to find.

Thanks to everyone who kept up with my adventures in and out of the lab in the summer. If you need to find me, I’ll be reading science-y books and lounging by my pool until they let me back in the Fall!


Welcome back, guys! Well, the biologists won the wiffle ball game 11–10. I, however, think that the chemists had a... MORE

Life in the lab: Back at home (and missing Max)

Posted by: on July 15, 2016   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

Hi guys!

After more than a month of wandering around Al Mag, I’m finally moving into my renovated lab! That means I’m going to spend the majority of the day carting chemicals back and forth and attacking things with a label maker. Unpacking boxes also means finding objects that have been hiding in a lab for 20 years and attempting to find a spot for them. How am I supposed to categorize an old computer mouse, a pink geode crystal that looks like it was purchased from an aquarium, and a mysterious wooden box labeled ‘government property?’

Max is not having nearly as much fun as I am this summer — he suddenly entered a coma during one of our trials. He refused to respond and is currently in New Jersey seeking treatment.

Although this tragedy set us back quite a bit, Roger Williams University down the road in Bristol, R.I., offered for us to come down and use their fluorometer while Max is recovering. We’ve also spent some time at URI this summer — proving that science really is about collaboration. That chemistry collaboration also exists within the Providence College Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. There’s actually so much collaboration that I convinced my fellow researchers in the department to star in a little video that I decided to make one afternoon as a spoof of The Office.

Despite taking group trips to the grocery store, going on coffee runs to several different places, and hanging out with friends and seeing Finding Dory (in addition to shooting and editing that entire video), I promise I do actually get work done in lab. We just finished collecting all of the data for the Extended Lipid Hypothesis project last week and are slowly chipping away at writing the paper. I consolidated all of the data into graphs for the easiest display and wrote the “experimental,” or the procedure, so far. Hopefully it’ll be published in time for me to apply to graduate school!

Since I’m done collecting data for that project, I’m focusing more heavily on my second project while the paper is coming together. The second project I’m working on consists of radiating different plastics, specifically polystyrene and PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate) with UV light and observing how their chemical structure changes as a result. When plastics come in contact with UV light for an extended period of time, the UV light breaks weaker bonds in the structure of the plastics and creates substances with odd-numbered electrons known as free radicals. These free radicals then react with the other particles of plastic and with each other — altering the chemistry of the plastic.

We monitor the plastics, furthermore, in water, and eventually hope to study this degradation of plastic in a mock-ocean environment. That way we can hope to better understand how plastics in our ocean affect the environment so we can work on preventing those effects!

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more information on my summer research in Friartown (and the much more important Chemistry vs. Biology wiffle ball game rumored to happen this weekend)!


Hi guys! After more than a month of wandering around Al Mag, I’m finally moving into my renovated lab! That... MORE

Second Helping: Back for another summer of research

Posted by: on June 1, 2016   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

Hi everyone!

briannaFor those of you who are new to the blog, my name is Brianna Abbott, and I’m a rising senior at Providence College. It’s also my second summer as a full-time research assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Because I’m the resident chemistry and creative writing double major (and therefore the resident weirdo in the science building), this is also my second summer writing a blog for the Providence College website. I couldn’t be more excited to contribute, especially since I’m going to need something to occupy my time when I’m waiting for Max to do his thing in lab.

Max, since I brought him up, is more of a machine than a person. Okay, he’s actually a fluorometer; but I spend most of my time with him because I’m the only student working with Dr. Breen in the Analytical Chemistry Lab at the moment, and I need someone to talk to.

In case you’re wondering a little bit more about him, a fluorometer is a machine that measures a process known as fluorescence. Within an atom, there are different, fixed spaces known as shells where electrons exist. When the electrons are as close to the center of the atom, or nucleus, as they possibly can be by being in the closest shells, it is said that that atom is in the ground state. In the ground state, the atom requires the least amount of energy to maintain its current position. This is because the negative charge of the electrons are attracted to the positively charged protons in the nucleus, so the two particles would want to be as close as they possibly can (the reason that electrons don’t simply fall into the protons in the nucleus has to do with potential and kinetic energy, but we can talk about that some other time). It would take more energy to keep the electrons and the protons apart, or have the electrons exist in shells further away from the nucleus, due to these attractive forces between the particles.

A fluorometer, however, adds this extra energy to the electrons with a light beam. The electrons absorb the light emitted by the fluorometer and jump to a shell further from the nucleus because they now have the energy to do so. This new state, known as the excited state, does not last for long, and the electron soon releases that energy in the form of a photon and drops down to a lower energy level. The release of that energy is known as fluorescence, and that is what Max measures.

I use Max in lab to work on my current project, exploring the validity of the Extended Lipid Hypothesis. I won’t talk too much about it now (I’ll save that for another blog post); but we’re finishing up some experimentation from last summer and, hopefully, we’ll begin to work on getting a paper published while I start my next project.

beachAlthough Max is vital to one of the projects I’m doing this summer, I don’t spend all my time with him. I’m actually split between three different rooms to do research because my previous lab is currently under construction. I’m more or less without a home at the moment, but I’ve taken over my own little wing of the science building. My refrigerator with all of the chemicals I need is located in the General Chemistry Lab, some of my instruments and other chemicals are in the Inorganic Lab, and Max is stationed in the Instrument Room. I don’t have card access to any of these rooms, so I usually start the day by attempting to break into one of the three labs. I promise that I’m supposed to be there.

Then again, I would illegally break into several buildings if it meant that I got to spend another summer in Friartown. Even though I commute to PC during the summer because I live in nearby Wrentham, MA., I spend a lot of my time outside of lab still bumming around campus and the city of Providence because there’s no where else I would rather be. A lot of other PC friars, both students and priests in white robes, are around campus this summer as well, meaning that there will most likely be more procrastination than productivity.

For Memorial Day weekend, a few of my fellow researchers and friends and I hit started the summer at the beach in Newport, R.I., and my legs are still burnt from the experience. The sun, sand, and fudge we got downtown, however, made the trip worthwhile. Who says that lab rats have to live in a cage?

More about our adventures and awkward moments to come as I continue to dance while I work, talk to inanimate machines, and spend another fantastic summer in Friartown! Maybe some science will be thrown in there, too.


Hi everyone! For those of you who are new to the blog, my name is Brianna Abbott, and I’m a... MORE

Summer Study: Stravinsky’s Style

Posted by: on May 24, 2016   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

joan miller picMy first personal experience with the music of Igor Stravinsky was in 2014 when I sang Symphony of Psalms with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Two years later, I’m still fascinated. In an amalgamation of styles and techniques, Stravinsky takes elements of music we’ve all grown up with and reinvents them to conform with his own unique conception of music. For an example, you need look no further than the double fugue in the second movement of Symphony of Psalms, which takes a technique perfected by Bach and puts a stylistic spin on it that is unmistakably Stravinsky.

But what is this personal style? From where did it emerge? Is it fed solely from the Western tradition, or are there other influences at play? An examination of the influences on Stravinsky’s style and music is the focus of my research this summer. More specifically, I will be looking at the influences of traditional Russian Orthodox liturgical chant on Stravinsky’s Catholic liturgical works, namely his Mass and Symphony of Psalms. As a member of the Russian Orthodox church, it is highly probable that elements of Orthodox liturgy would have worked their way into Stravinsky’s style and come across in some of his most spiritually powerful compositions.

To accomplish this project, I will be spending my summer traveling to various libraries and archives in southern New England and New York, where I will be studying the development and evolution of Stravinsky’s style and the characteristics of Russian Orthodox liturgical chant, in an attempt to discover the common ground between the two areas. To develop a better grasp of the nuances of Russian Orthodox chant, I will also be in touch with a Russian Orthodox hymnographer throughout my research. Once this portion of the research is completed, my next task will be to complete an analysis of both of Stravinsky’s works to determine the extent to which they were influenced by Russian Orthodox chant. If I’m correct, there will be substantial crossover in style, which will help to explain some of the anomalies in the traditional Western, tonal theory based interpretations of the scores that fail to fully account for the presence of certain chordal progressions and voice leading choices Stravinsky presents us with throughout both Catholic liturgical compositions.

And so begins my summer research project. Having been an avid admirer of Stravinsky’s music for some time now, I’m looking forward to taking a closer look at some of my favorite of his compositions, while simultaneously indulging my love for music theory and analysis — an opportunity made possible by my Veritas Research Grant. I couldn’t be more excited to begin.


Joan Miller, Class of 2018

My first personal experience with the music of Igor Stravinsky was in 2014 when I sang Symphony of Psalms with... MORE

Signing off: Summer of science ends with research conference

Posted by: on August 11, 2015   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

Dear eager science blog enthusiasts (if you’re actually out there),

brianna in front of posterIt’s been less than a week since research ended, and even though I absolutely love my own free time to read by the pool, I have to say I already kind of miss the lab. The past 10 weeks I learned how to navigate a lab on my own, that repetition is the key to accurate science, and that some of my favorite people and professors in the world also call Al Mag their home away from home.

The final place that all of these fantastic people were gathered together was the 8th Annual SURF Conference at the University of Rhode Island. There were more than 130 posters presented from all over the state. To be fair, Rhode Island is the smallest state in America, but it was still impressive. The governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, was in attendance — making a brief appearance to shake some hands and meet one of the researchers who was sponsored by the state.

As a solo researcher, I had to present my findings solo, which was definitely terrifying. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to say when people showed up at my poster. I probably should have planned something eloquent and inspiring, but I knew my research well enough to give a little synopsis on the spot when people asked what all of my colorful little charts meant. That was a plus of working alone; you know your project inside and out because you can’t rely on a lab partner to tell you what’s going on. When someone asks a tough question, you’re the only person there to answer it.

pellocklabDr. Breen could have answered it too, obviously, and he probably could have answered any question 10 times better and faster than I could, but he was walking around and observing all of the other posters like the rest of the faculty. I had a few professors from PC (and the Dean of Undergraduate School of Arts and Sciences) examine and question my poster, and I think I kept it together the best that I could without outwardly panicking. Apparently a few of them even told Dr. Breen that I did a good job, which was more than I could have asked for.

And look who else showed up! Dr. Pellock’s lab was in tow, being the responsible scientists they are and carpooling to the event to save the planet. Dr. William’s lab was there, too — a great group of kids studying some not so great (but thoroughly interesting) pathogens. I listened to their presentations as a fellow researcher, a journalist, and a friend, and they did a fantastic job! Good work, guys! I’m not sure how many of them are continuing to research with Dr. Pellock or Dr. Williams in the fall semester, but you can be sure to see all of their faces running through the halls of Al Mag next year. Let’s just hope that they’ll be wearing safety goggles!

I’ll be back running around Al Mag, too, continuing to work with Dr. Breen and jamming out with Max. He might feel a little bit of separation anxiety these next few weeks when I’m gone, but I’m sure he’ll forgive me by the end of the semester.

I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone involved in my summer at PC, and – of course – everyone who read this blog. My summer wouldn’t have been the same without you! I know a science blog isn’t the most exciting thing to read, either, but I hope I entertained you/made you smile/taught you something about science at least once. If not, here’s something that will hopefully do all three:

chem memeIt took me an hour of uselessly searching the Internet to find that photo, so I really, really hope you got something from it. Anyway, this is where I sign off. Feel free to contact me individually if you have any questions about my research, my blog, or Providence College in general, and have a great rest of the summer!

Best of luck from Friartown (for the last time),

Bri and Max

Dear eager science blog enthusiasts (if you’re actually out there), It’s been less than a week since research ended, and... MORE