Faculty Mini-Grant Supports Nanotechnology Research

April 14, 2008
By: Worcester State University News

As Eihab Jaber (Chemistry) well knows, necessity is truly the mother of invention.

When he came to Worcester State College two years ago, Jaber had dreams of continuing the nanotechnology research he did both as a doctoral student and post-doc at Stony Brook University. “I was naive,” he said. “I’d been working in computational materials science, using a supercomputer, and thought I would keep at that.”

The demands of a teaching college coupled with the lack of research laboratory space seemed daunting. But not for long.

“You have to be willing to change your research to fit the situation at an undergraduate college,” he said.

And change he has. Jaber scaled back his projects by using smaller, less fast computers, and secured a 2007-2008 faculty mini-grant, Nanotechnology: Development of a New Class of Magnetic-Susceptible Smart Materials, to further his revised research agenda.

“The mini-grant was a godsend,” he said. “It got me started.”

A collaboration with his thesis adviser at Stony Brook resulted in the donation of a supercomputer alpha cluster, a machine that worked well for Jaber last year but is now in need of repair. He’s applied for another mini-grant so that he might fix and return it to service.

A visiting professors research talk to the chemistry departments senior seminar in April 2007  resulted in yet another collaboration. Dr. Glenisson De Oliveria of Rhode Island College has years of experience with undergraduate research.  After the seminar, the two kept talking. Jaber then gave a research talk at RIC.

You have to try your best to branch out, he said, to build partnerships with others at similar colleges who have worked with undergraduates.

These two professors, plus a colleague at Central Connecticut State University, submitted a Math and Science Partnership grant to the National Science Foundation in late March. If the grant is funded, they’ll engage science faculty in their colleges to teach high school teachers to do research with their students.

Meanwhile, Jaber spent last summer teaching both summer sessions at Worcester State to earn money to outfit a computer work station for undergraduate researchers. And he ratcheted up his recruitment efforts.

“Once students see the benefits of research, they’re eager to do it,” he said. “Graduate schools and medical schools love to see that students have done research.”

He currently works with seven undergraduates who are tackling a variety of complex problems. One is examining nanoparticles, seeking to understand how to make them more stable in cancer therapy. Another student will present a research poster at two different science conferences. And another is collecting data for an article that will be submitted to the Journal of Chemical Education.

He keeps these young researchers on a short leash, meeting them individually for 2 to 3 hours a week to discuss their work.

“I love working with students,” he said. “They’re getting to see real-world applications.”

He’s outfitted the computational research lab with chemistry book samples publishers send him, hoping he’ll adopt them for classes. The student researchers do their work and often their homework–in the cozy lab, which is on the fourth floor of the Ghosh building.

“I want to create a sense of community,” Jaber said. “I love research, and I love seeing students working together, helping one another.”

Written by Barbara Zang, Ph.D.


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