Lehigh’s Chemistry Department Hosts 84th Meeting of Undergraduate Chemistry Researchers

Chemistry students from across the region gathered virtually as Lehigh’s Department of Chemistry hosted the 84th Annual Intercollegiate Student Chemists Convention (ISCC) on April 10. The event is intended to recognize and celebrate meaningful undergraduate research in the chemical sciences, providing a forum for students to give oral presentations of the results of their research.

After opening remarks by Robert Flowers, Herbert J. and Anne L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Danser Distinguished Faculty Chair in the Department of Chemistry, more than 80 students shared their research in 15-minute presentations. Awards recognizing research excellence were presented in each of the five concurrently running sessions:

  • Ahila Moorthy, University of Delaware — The Preclinical Pharmacokinetic Analysis of Vem-BisAmide-2
  • Alec Buttner, Moravian College — The Connexin 43 Carboxyl-Terminus Tail as a Src Inhibitor in Cancer Cells
  • Jason Stone, Bloomsburg University — Synthesis and Characterization of New Families of Trivalent Lanthanide Squrates and an Aerobically Stable Divalent Europium Squarate
  • Jillian Jones, University of the Sciences — A Practical and Mild Method for the Deprotection of Allyl Ethers and Esters
  • Jake Selingo, The University of Scranton — A New Method for the Synthesis of Tetraarylmethanes

The conference concluded with a plenary talk by Dr. Niki Patel '15G, Associate Principal Scientist, Process Research & Development at Merck Research Laboratories, who discussed Innovative Strategies toward Complex Molecule Synthesis: Development of a Fully Biocatalytic Manufacturing Route for Islatravir. As well as presenting the exciting research she currently undertakes at Merck, Dr. Patel described her academic path and how she arrived at her current position in industry, a perspective that undergraduates do not usually get to hear.

During the lunch time break in the schedule, Lehigh chemistry graduate students Emily Ankron, Robert Hamburger and Nancy Obioha led a discussion about life as a graduate student and how they decided to pursue graduate studies. 

This year’s convention was organized by Lehigh faculty Elizabeth Young, assistant professor of chemistry, and Damien Thévenin, associate professor of chemistry. Though Lehigh last hosted the ISCC meeting in 1980, department faculty have been active participants. Young was a judge at conventions during the last several years, at Elizabethtown College and Gettysburg College. The ISCC needed a site for this year, so Young suggested that it would be a great opportunity for Lehigh to host the conference again. Thévenin was immediately on board. The convention is typically held in person, but was forced into a virtual format by the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual format presented some benefits and challenges.

“More students participated this year than during the past several years,” Young said. “It might have been easier for students to attend because attendees didn’t have to drive a long distance or stay overnight. The logistics were simpler, creating access for more students. On the other hand, virtual events cannot fully replicate the in-person experience. It’s nice to be together and actually see people (in person!) showing interest in your research.”

“Even at lunch time, during an onsite event, students have lunch together provided by the conference so they can interact with other students and faculty,” Thévenin added.

“The great presentations reflect the dedication by the students and investment by the faculty l who coach them,” Young noted. “When I’ve judged in the past, the presentations have always been very good. The students knew their stuff and had a lot of results to show.”

“They are very motivated and driven students,” Thévenin said. “It’s not just a few months  of research. These students conduct research over  several semesters, so they’re deeply engaged in those programs, those research topics for at least a year and a half, maybe their entire undergraduate studies. These are the students who go on to graduate programs and medical schools and do very well.”

The ISCC is one of the oldest, continuously meeting annual conventions of its kind in the United States. The first convention was held in April 1936 and has met every year, except for a pause during World War II and in 2020 during the COVID pandemic.  While it was a privilege to keep the event going this year by organizing the first ever virtual ISCC, Young and Thévenin agree that they hope it will be back in person next year at the University of Delaware.