F&M Stories

Research Award Enables Post-Baccalaureate Study at F&M

After removing her cap and gown following graduation May 14, chemistry major Rebecca Qi Luo '22 returned to the Franklin & Marshall College laboratory where she spent her undergraduate days.

"Besides gaining more research experience for my own project, I'll learn from other researchers by reading papers and attending meetings and conferences," Luo said.

She is the beneficiary of a post-baccalaureate program in chemistry at F&M, funded by a 2022 Cottrell Scholarship that was recently awarded on her behalf to Professor of Chemistry Kate Plass.

As a "postbac," Luo will take a leadership role, continuing her research with Plass, overseeing projects at a new level, and training, inspiring, and mentoring other students throughout the 2022-23 academic year.

"This is such a powerful experience for Rebecca," Plass said. "This new level of responsibility and agency changes a student from 'student' to 'professional.' They come out of it more confident, more aware of what they value, and better equipped for grad school or whatever professional career they choose."

The $50,000 award is only open to faculty who won the Cottrell College Science Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, a $45,000 award Plass won in 2008. Plass said Luo's past research work was "instrumental" in their receiving the award.

"Rebecca was a really important part of the scholarship," Plass said. "It's a recognition of what she has accomplished and how much impact the RCSA thinks she can have on our science and the other students in the lab."

"This experience will give strong undergraduate researchers more time and experience to see themselves as scientists," RCSA President Daniel Linzer said. "They will be able to strengthen their research portfolios, contribute to projects, and help train the next undergraduates in their research groups."

Luo, who plans to attend graduate school, found her undergraduate research experience challenging and rewarding.

"I needed to decide on my experimental direction and create a logical way to interpret my data," she said. "Although they sometimes completely failed, it's also part of the charm of science."

The research Luo will continue to work on with Plass and students aims to develop new strategies for controlling the shape and chemistry of nanoparticles.

"Whether you want to use nanomaterials to design new solar cells to address renewable energy generation, photocatalysts for the storage of renewable energy, or efficient LEDs to ensure sustainable energy usage, you have to synthesize solid materials with exquisitely controlled interfaces, shape, and chemistry," Plass said. "We are designing new ways to make that happen."

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