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Southwestern Receives $150,000 for Chemistry Research Program

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Welch Foundation renews funding for summer program

Southwestern students and faculty members will have summer chemistry research opportunities for another three years, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the Robert A. Welch Foundation of Houston.

The Foundation has renewed Southwestern’s grant for its Welch Summer Research Program, which it has funded since 1985. The university will receive $50,000 a year for the next three years.

About 13 students are selected for the program each summer. Those who are selected receive a stipend as well as living expenses that enable them to spend eight weeks conducting research with Southwestern faculty members.

“This program provides valuable research experience for our students,” said Emily Niemeyer, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “We would not be able to do it without support from the Welch Foundation.”

Among the students who has benefitted from the program is Fern Nguyen, a senior chemistry major from Grand Prairie. Nguyen participated in the program for the past two summers. Both summers, she worked with Niemeyer to study the effects of nitrogen concentration on the antioxidant content of basil. Nitrogen is a component of commercial fertilizer, which makes plants such as basil grow larger, but it also appears to reduce the concentration of valuable antioxidents in basil.

“It was really great getting to work one-on-one with a professor,” Nguyen said. “Professor Niemeyer really got to know me, and when I went for my medical school interviews, they said I had the best letter of recommendation they had seen.”

Nguyen was recently accepted at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Nguyen said medical schools also were impressed by the fact that she had published a paper as an undergraduate. Nguyen published a paper in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry that was based on her research the past two summers.

She and other participants in last summer’s Welch program also will be going to the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, this March to present the results of their research projects. 

In addition to the research component, students who participate in the Welch summer program also spend a week doing science outreach activities for children in the Georgetown community.