Chemistry and Biochemistry

PhD Student Takes Third in New ACS Symposium

Posted: in Research, Student, Sep 12, 2011

Stacey Smith, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was surprised and honored when her name was read at the fall 2011 ACS meeting in Denver as the third place presenter in a new graduate student award symposium.

“[I was] surprised, like, ‘wow, that’s really neat,’ because everyone that was there … it was already a select group of people presenting, and then everyone that was there did a really good job,” Smith said. “They’re all very polished speakers and were presenting very interesting research. So I don’t know how the judges picked the winners, but I felt very fortunate to be one of them.”

When asked how it felt to have a student recognized for an outstanding accomplishment, one of Smith’s advisors, Dr. Branton Campbell of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said, “It’s really satisfying. I know they’re good already, but it’s nice when others recognize it too.”

Dr. Michael A. Matthews, co-organizer of the symposium and Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of South Carolina, said the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (I&EC) Division of ACS developed the new symposium to provide a venue for “aspiring chemical scientists and engineers to present their work to their peers and professionals.”

“We believe the profession needs to recognize their research in an interdisciplinary forum,” Dr. Matthews said in an e-mail. “We hope that students will continue to use ACS and in particular the I&EC Division as a professional home for building relationships and their careers.”

To that end, I&EC spread the word for their first annual I&EC Graduate Student Award Symposium. Out of 23 students nationwide who applied, 18 presented their work. Some traveling from the east coast even adjusted their travel plans in order to avoid Hurricane Irene.

Smith found out about the symposium when Department Chair, Dr. Greg Burton, forwarded an informative email about it to all the graduate students. She “threw the summary of research together” almost on a whim and made plans to stop in Denver on the way home from another conference in Madrid when she found out she got in.

“There are quite a few benefits [to presenting in a symposium],” Smith said. “First, it gets your research out there so that other people are aware of what you’re doing and then it can eventually be used. It also provides a forum through which you can receive feedback and get new ideas of additional things to try or do. It makes your research better because you get feedback; and then you make connections. I met several other students from Columbia and MIT and other universities that were not necessarily collaborating right now, but those connections are there, so maybe someday they can form a collaboration.”

Smith is currently researching chemical catalysts that typically occur in high temperatures, collaborating with three different professors on campus: Dr. Juliana Boerio-Goates and Dr. Brian Woodfield from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as, more recently, Dr. Campbell. The presentation she gave in Denver focused on cobalt-based catalysts and the aluminum-oxide nanoparticles that support the catalyst, particularly the research she’s done on how to improve the nanoparticles’ stability at high temperatures.

Smith is now starting her fifth year working on her PhD and hoping to finish soon. Because her project has taken her through several aspects of physical chemistry and three advisors, she jokingly referred to her pending dissertation as “varied” and “multi-personality.”

“Hopefully [I’ll get a break from presenting now],” she said. “I’ve got to get this dissertation written! No travels this year, just writing.”

By Jessica Henrie

Photos courtesy of Stacey Smith