Professor Marc Zimmer explains what the 1918 flu epidemic can teach us about COVID-19
Isis Torres Nuñez ’20 conducting research at Barn Island in Stonington (top); Justin Nwafor ’21 (above) arranging the hood in Hale Laboratory.
"Science is like a language,” Zimmer said. “Our language students go abroad to immerse themselves in foreign languages, and to really learn the practice of science, our students have to immerse themselves in science, doing research five days a week for at least eight weeks."
The summer program, which provides a stipend and campus housing, offers an early opportunity for students to work closely with faculty and potentially get their research published.
Rising sophomore Justin Nwafor ’21, who is pursuing a major in chemistry, is working on two separate projects this summer. The first, under the guidance of Zimmer, involves using computational chemistry to aide in the study of Green Fluorescent Protein structures. The second, in collaboration with Margaret W. Kelly Professor of Chemistry Stanton Ching focuses on finding innovative water treatment methods.
“We’re working with manganese oxides, because they’ve been shown to be fairly effective at degrading materials that are resistant to regular water treatment methods, but they’re also non-toxic and cost effective,” Nwafor said.
Ching said he has been impressed with how dedicated and talented Nwafor and the other students he’s worked with have been this summer, and that the exposure they get to practical lab and field experience will serve them well in school and their careers moving forward.
“The summer research experience is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn what it's like to do science in the trenches,” Ching said. “They have to be able to work independently, think on their own, learn to use new equipment, design experiments, and assess results, all in the context of studying a system that has never been studied before.”
Torres Nuñez said one of the key lessons she has taken away from her two summers participating in the program is that failure in scientific research is what drives breakthroughs and innovation, because it demands persistence.
“Being a scientist comes with challenges—you never really know what you’re going to get even if you do everything exactly as you’re told, and that’s the beauty of it,” she said.
“There’s so much that we have yet to discover and learn and that makes research all the more exciting. If we knew everything and everything went perfectly all the time, then we wouldn’t grow as scholars and scientists.”