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Undergraduate Researchers Gain Presentation Experience at Regional Chemical Society Conference

David H. Magers, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at MC, said undergraduate students attending the SURC 2024 will present research
David H. Magers, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at MC, said undergraduate students attending the SURC 2024 will present research "that possibly no one in the world has ever done before.”

David H. Magers was in graduate school before he was asked by his research director to present an original research project.

Not having had the opportunity to do so as an undergraduate student made the prospect of defending his work in front of his peers, friends, and faculty members a bit petrifying.

“The ability to share information with someone else is a valuable skill,” said Magers, a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Mississippi College. “That’s true whether you’re in graduate school, medical school, an industry, or a career.”

Magers is particularly adept at communicating scientific concepts with others, a skill that led to his receiving the Mississippi Chemist of the Year Award by the Mississippi Section of the American Chemical Society in 2003 and MC’s Distinguished Professor of the Year Award in 2005, Chemistry Alumnus of the Year Award in 2011, and the Carol C. West Faculty Advocate Award in 2018. He also received the 2024 Contribution to Science Award from the Mississippi Academy of Sciences.

Alongside his son, Brandon Magers, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics and Faculty Fellow of Instructional Technology at Belhaven University, Magers is seeking to revive an event that helps cultivate that skill in undergraduate students.

Undergraduate researchers from Louisiana to Florida will present their original work, hear from one of the nation’s leading scientists, and interact with chemistry faculty from graduate programs throughout the Southeast during a regional conference at Mississippi College.

The 53rd American Chemical Society Southeast Undergraduate Research Conference (SURC 2024), jointly sponsored by Mississippi College, Belhaven University, and the Mississippi Local Section of the ACS, is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16-17, in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center.

Participants representing small, private colleges to large public universities will meet to present original research during a conference that had been an annual event until the COVID-19 pandemic suspended it after the February 2020 gathering.

“These students will be presenting research that possibly no one in the world has ever done before,” David Magers said. “To be an undergraduate student and to be able to say, ‘I am the expert on this project,’ is impressive.

“I can’t tell you how many of my students have had success in graduate school because of the experience they had in presenting research as undergraduates.”

“Students who do research have better success post-graduation in general,” Brandon Magers said. “It looks good on a resume, but it also gets them excited about their research. They do better research after they’ve had a good experience at a conference.”

SURC 2024 is geared toward these undergraduate chemistry researchers. The program is scheduled to include student oral presentations, poster sessions, a graduate school and career fair, dinner, and a social event.

Angela K. Wilson, the John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives in the Michigan State University College of Natural Sciences, and Director of the MSU Center for Quantum Computing, Science, and Engineering, will deliver the keynote address.

Mississippi College students like Gabrielle Winters and Ryleigh Borbash are savoring the opportunity to hear from Wilson and defend their research during the conference.

“This conference will allow students like me to disseminate information, reinforce our knowledge, hear from someone else, and network,” said Winters, a junior biology/pre-med major from Kosciusko. “A big aspect of research is collaboration, and the progression of research involves utilizing past work and findings.”

Winters said she is excited to present her project, “Conventional Strain Energy and Hyperconjugation in Cyclopropylborane and Fluoro and Chloro Derivatives.”

“Strain energy levels have an assumed inverse proportionality to molecular stability,” she said. “With cyclopropylborane, because of the empty p orbital exhibited by boron, there is hyperconjugation with the nearby C-C sigma bonds of the ring. This hyperconjugation leads to lowered strain energy and increased molecular stability.

“We hypothesized a similar effect with substituting one of the boryl group’s hydrogens for an electronegative atom. In this project, we investigate to determine the effects of chlorine or fluorine on molecular stability.”

Borbash is using a quicker and more efficient process to calculate the enthalpies of formation of  molecules in her project, “Enthalpies of Formation of Quinoline Derivatives by Homodesmotic Reactions.”

“Using homodesmotic reactions, we have been able to calculate enthalpies well within chemical accuracy,” said Borbash, a senior from Hattiesburg pursuing a double major in biology and chemistry medical sciences. “These conferences allow undergraduate students to learn about current scientific research first-hand.

“We are opened to the world of science and the ability to show our contributions while still receiving guidance from our mentors.”

Several MC  undergraduate research students – more than 20, in fact – are scheduled to present at the conference. Most are student members of the Mississippi ACS chapter, and all  of MC’s chemistry faculty are ACS members in good standing.

The Magers have known the keynote speaker – a theoretical chemist like them – for many years. Wilson earned her B.S. in chemistry at Eastern Washington University, obtained her Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Minnesota, and was a postdoctoral fellow in theoretical physical chemistry at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

She joined the University of North Texas faculty in 2000 and became a Regents Professor, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty, and head of UNT’s Office of Faculty Success. She was also founder and director of the Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling.

President of the American Chemical Society in 2022, Wilson also served as division director of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Division of Chemistry. She is a Fellow of the ACS, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Recipient of the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry Distinguished Woman in Chemistry Award, and the 2023 AWIS Zenith Award, she is a member of the Iota Sigma Pi National Honorary. In 2018, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame and is a national associate of the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

President of the IUPAC’s Division of Physical and Biophysical Chemistry, chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Chemistry Section, and vice president of QuSTEAM, she has served as editor of “Computational and Theoretical Chemistry” and six books, including “Pioneers of Quantum Chemistry.” Her physical chemistry research spans quantum mechanical and quantum dynamical method development, transition metal and heavy element chemistry, drug discovery, environmental chemistry, catalysis, thermodynamics, and sustainability. Her computational chemistry methodologies are used worldwide.

“Her presentation should be a mix of her scientific work and her career in science,” David Magers said. “She’s well respected, and her name has helped elevate this conference.”

Hosting a regional meeting for one of the nation’s largest scientific societies brings no small amount of prestige to Mississippi College and Belhaven University – two small, private Christian colleges in the heart of the Deep South.

“It shows that both MC and Belhaven have strong undergraduate chemistry departments and that we are big supporters of undergraduate research,” Brandon Magers said.

“I’ve been involved with SURC for many years,” David Magers said. “We’re big proponents of undergraduate research. Even the ‘big schools’ listen to us, and we are factors in undergraduate research decisions in the Southeast.”

Winters said being able to share her knowledge about her research project with scientific leaders throughout the Southeast right here in Clinton is invaluable.

“Presenting allows us to strengthen one of our most important skills: communication,” she said. “I am looking forward to meeting other students from all over the Southeast and seeing their research projects.

“No matter what field we go into, our ability to further the conversation on research will lead to advances in that area,” she said.

For more information about SURC 2024, click here.