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

California Love: Chemistry students, faculty attend San Diego conference

Posted by: on April 8, 2016   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

seanHi, everyone!

I want you to meet my friend and fellow chemistry major, Sean Goralski. Last month, Sean went to the American Chemical Society (ASC) meeting in San Diego, and I want to share with you some of his experiences.

Here at PC, Sean conducts organic chemistry research under Dr. Kenneth Overly. Sean went to the ACS meeting as a representative of Dr. Overly’s research group. (Satyam Khanal went to ACS as the representative from my research group under Dr. Seann Mulcahy.) Sean and the PC group — consisting of three professors, a post-doctorate, and two other research students — attended the ACS meeting from March 14 to March 16. While I was enjoying a few days off from my chemistry classes (which were cancelled because my professors were in San Diego) by catching up on some sleep, Sean was enjoying himself in an entirely different way.

acs-logoEvery day, Monday through Wednesday, Sean and the PC group would wake up fairly early to attend 20-minute research presentations throughout the morning. The presentations ranged from different fields of chemistry and research. Most of the presentations were given by graduate students or researchers at universities, but some presenters were representing pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical company presentations were interesting because the presenters were not able to reveal too much information about their research due to pending patents. In general, though, Sean liked how these presentations exposed him to different areas of chemistry that he has not been very exposed to, such as medicinal chemistry. Since the presentations were short, it allowed him to attend many presentations. This exposure to different types of research was very beneficial since he is, like me, considering going to graduate school.

In the afternoons, there were undergraduate poster sessions, which each PC student presented at. Each day, a different field of chemistry was represented. There were also graduate and post-graduate poster sessions. Sean and another PC student were particularly excited to recognize the author of the solution manual to their Quantum Mechanics textbook. They thanked him for helping them pass that class, which amused him! Sean also saw and spoke with a PC graduate.

So, for Sean and the other students, this was more than just attending presentations and poster sessions. They interacted and connected with other researchers to learn more about the opportunities in the field of chemistry. At ACS, there were even mock interviewers and resume reviewers to help undergraduates prepare for their next step.

Overall, it was a great experience for Sean, who was able to explore the city a little, as well as learn more about chemistry and research. After talking to Sean, I hope to attend the next ACS meeting in 2017 to experience these same things!

Signing off,
Caroline Foley

Hi, everyone! I want you to meet my friend and fellow chemistry major, Sean Goralski. Last month, Sean went to... MORE

Discovering Aromas

Posted by: on March 21, 2016   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

clarA couple of months ago, I was wandering the halls of Albertus Magnus and I decided to say ‘hi’ to my general chemistry professor, Dr. Jay Pike. At the end of our conversation, I mentioned that (as a junior) I was very eager to start working in a chemistry research group, but I did not know how to get started. Dr. Pike told me he was starting a research team and he would be glad if I could join. I was thrilled!

The research team is composed of Daniella, Stephano, and myself (Clarissa Correa) and is directed by Dr. Pike. Our research team decided to study the molecular composition of violets — in particular, viola nephrophylla — and compare the different types of chemical ionones in their composition.

violetWe chose the violet because it is the Rhode Island state flower and, besides being a marvelous flower, we wanted to find out more about them. We questioned if all violets had the same aromas or scents. Or, if we altered the chemical composition of some of these ionones, would it have an impact on their aroma? As you can imagine, the experience has been amazing. Throughout this hands-on training, the team has learned how to conduct NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance), Mass Spectrums, and TLC (Thin Layer Chromatography).

I admit, I was nervous at the beginning because I had never been part of a research team. Let me tell you, it has been the best decision that I have made in my years at Providence College. I have learned that the mistakes I have made in lab help me become a better scientist. The skills that I have obtained in this process have made me aware of thinking critically. And, I have worked with a wonderful team.

I will keep you updated as I continue my research journey, so I hope you keep checking in with me.

Clarissa Correa

A couple of months ago, I was wandering the halls of Albertus Magnus and I decided to say ‘hi’ to... MORE