May 26, 2003
Chemistry students conduct research
through UCSC program
By Shawna Williams
For the past 17 years, chemistry students from around the
come to UCSC for a summer of intensive research. Last year,
expanded its summer research program to another sun-kissed
Chemistry students Robert Rivers of Kentucky State University
and Meg Desko of Drew University contemplate a lotus flower at
the Royal Palace in Thailand. Photo
courtesy of R. Braslau
|Chemistry students in UCSC's
Thai REU program did some sightseeing with Thai graduate students
as guides. UCSC undergrad Stephen Born is third from left.
Photo courtesy of R. Braslau
The National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsors UCSC's
Research Fellowship (SURF) program, which gives students 10 weeks of
full-time research experience in the Department of
Chemistry and Biochemistry.
This type of experience is very important for students
planning to pursue
graduate work in the sciences, said Rebecca Braslau,
of chemistry and biochemistry, who runs the SURF program.
Three years ago, Braslau heard that the NSF was interested
similar programs in East Asia.
"NSF's goal was to build a cadre of globally engaged young researchers
with connections in the Pacific Basin," Braslau said.
She managed to find contacts in Thailand to make the new program possible,
and got an NSF grant to fund it. Six students from around the country
traveled to Thailand last summer as the first participants in the Thai
Research Experience for Undergraduates (Thai REU) program.
The Thai REU provides successful applicants with a 10-week placement
with a mentor in an organic chemistry lab at one of three institutions
in Bangkok, as well as transportation to and from Thailand, university
housing, a short course in Thai language and culture, and a stipend.
"I was surprised how smoothly it operated and how successful it
was," Braslau said. "And the NSF seemed to be quite happy
with it, too."
Stephen Born, who graduated from UCSC last year with a double major
in chemistry and molecular, cell and developmental biology, was among
the first group of students in the Thai REU.
"It was really good," Born said. "There was
barrier, but the Thai graduate students were incredibly
The Thai graduate students took the REU students on
weekend trips around
Thailand, so they saw more of the country than just
Bangkok, Born said.
Although he said switching to a rice-based diet was
to say the least," he developed a taste for the food
and now cooks
Some things about the country surprised him: the excellent
of systems such as public transportation; the conservatism
of the culture;
and the ubiquitous American brand names.
The laboratory setup was also different from what Born was used to,
with all space shared instead of divided into individual work areas.
The research itself was as rigorous as he would have expected in the
United States, he said.
"I highly recommend an REU program to all undergraduate science
students," Born said. "It opens up your eyes to a research
world you might not otherwise be exposed to."
Thai REU students live at Chulalongkorn University and do research
either there, at Mahidol University, or at the Chulabhorn
Chulalongkorn is Thailand's oldest university and one of
its most prestigious.
The Chulabhorn Research Institute is run by Princess
who has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.
This summer there will be eight students in the Thai REU
from 55 applicants. Applications rose this year, probably
year's participants have helped get the word out and the department
has worked hard at publicizing the program, Braslau said.
Some participants have expressed concern about the severe
syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Asia, but Braslau said she is
confident" the program can go ahead as expected.
Thailand has had
only two cases of the disease and enforces a strict
quarantine on visitors
coming from affected countries.
More information on the Thai REU and SURF programs can be
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