Summer Research Combines Computers and Chemistry

This summer, Loras students are taking advantage of grant funding to expand their education through research projects on campus. A total of seven students are benefiting from the grant in different areas of study: Brianna Arreguin (‘ 22), Megan Berndt (‘ 23), Madison Brewster (‘ 22), Nicholas Haskin (‘ 22), Emma Hoefer (‘ 23), Brianna Renner (‘ 23) and Gracelyn Surma (‘ 21).

In 2019, Loras College received a grant from the Dr. Scholl Foundation to support undergraduate students researching with a Loras faculty member in the summer of 2020. Due to COVID-19-related restrictions and concerns, the initiative was put on hold with an extension from the Dr. Scholl Foundation to be conducted this summer. Provost Donna Heald and Valorie Woerdehoff authored the grant request.

In today’s feature, we focus on the work being put forth by Haskin, Hoefer and Renner as they work with Adam Moser, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, on computational chemistry. 

“My research area is computational chemistry, which is interdisciplinary between computer science and chemistry,” Moser said. “Our specific work is on developing a new computer model for how water affects the structure and properties of molecules. Research experiences are important to developing science students because it is during research their knowledge and skills learned in class are put into action to solve a problem or answer a question. A summer research experience is especially valuable because it gives a sense of what it might be like to pursue research as a career and allows students to make significant progress toward answering questions no one has ever answered before.”

Haskin is a pre-med biochemistry major working a little out of his comfort zone as he looks at incorporating computers into the study.

“I initially became interested in Dr. Moser’s research to bridge my interests in chemistry with a topic I knew nothing about – computer science,” he said. “This research is allowing an opportunity to take chemical theory and experimental applications from the classroom and apply that knowledge into computational models. Computational chemistry is in itself quite broad, and I am grateful to be able to delve deeper into its advantages in chemical and biological contexts.”

A pre-pharmacy biochemistry major, Renner is excited to have the opportunity to continue her education outside of the academic year.

“I chose to do research over the summer as it allows me to expand my knowledge of an area of science that I otherwise would not have explored. It is a fabulous opportunity that I have been given as research is a vital component of science. Performing research is part of the biochemistry curriculum. However, most students are not able to perform their research in a similar fashion to that of a full-time researcher. I was interested in this opportunity to explore more career opportunities that are available to me,” she explained.

Hoefer, a chemistry major, is looking forward to digging more into the research topic to become more versed in a subject she doesn’t know very well.

“I chose to work on this research project because computational chemistry isn’t an area that gets covered in-depth within our science classes, and I was interested in learning something new. Skills developed through conducting research, such as the ability to think creatively and learning not to be afraid to fail, are essential for a future career and life. I’m excited to see what developments we make over the course of this project and what new ideas we discover.”

We will explore the work of the other four students with Dr. Andy Kehr and Dr. Keith Thraen-Borowski soon. 

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).