Quynh  Nguyen

Quynh Nguyen '20

Major: Chemistry

Minor: Math

RCMS Chemistry Learning Assistant
STEM Scholars Program: Summer 2018

Research title: The Anomalous Redox Behavior of Cu(L-serine)2 and Comparisons to Closely Related Cu(L-homoserine)2 and Cu(L-cysteine)2 Complexes
Research mentor: Dr. T. Leon Venable

What career paths are you considering?
I am planning to apply to graduate school in chemistry. I want to become a professor and continue research in academia.

Why did you apply for the STEM Scholars Program?
As a chemistry major, I wanted to integrate my coursework into research and gain more research experiences in chemistry. I also wanted to experience what it feels like to conduct full-time research to confirm my desire to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Describe your summer research in 7 words or less.
Copper-amino acid complex, its redox reaction

In words anyone can understand, what did you study in your summer research?
I studied the unique chemistry of [copper] -- an essential nutrient with other chemical substances found in human body. Since the substance we were interested in is so unstable when combining with Cu compared to other related substances, we tried to determine what structural differences of [this copper-serine complex] are responsible for behavioral differences in biochemistry and the relevance of this difference to Wilson’s disease.

For the real nerds, what did you find? (2-3 sentences of results, can be discipline-specific language)
Cu(L-serine)2 and closely related Cu(aminoacidato)2 complexes were successfully synthesized with a relatively high yields. Cu(L-serine)2 complex undergoes a spontaneous redox reaction in which Cu(II) is reduced to Cu(I) and serine is oxidized to an apparent aldehyde. It was revealed that the 10 OH functional group on L-serine was not the key to the anomalous redox behavior of Cu(L-serine)2 since the oxidation of Cu(L-homoserine)2 did not occur.

What did you gain from the experience? (Career-wise? personally? academically? fun?)
I was able to understand more about how to conduct research and what it feels like to work in a research lab or in a research project. I also improved my critical thinking skills, learned to trust my own abilities to carry out experiments independently and ask for help if needed. In addition, it made me feel I want to pursue a career in research. It confirmed my passion to go to grad school.

Did you gain any self-knowledge from the research experience?
I was able to understand more about inorganic chemistry, learned how to pursue a problem, design experiment and apply the theory I learned in the classroom.

How did you like research vs. coursework?
It broadened my undergrad experience because doing research actually makes me feel like the knowledge and learning from my classes are useful things that can be used into a practical way.

What was challenging about research? How do you handle those challenges (or how did you see people handle them well)?
This was my first research experience so most of the knowledge and techniques are new. Using critical thinking skills was also difficult at first, but my mentor was very helpful. He guided us through every single step. He always asked us “why do we this?”, “why do we run this kind of reaction?”, and that really helped us to be able to improve our critical thinking.

What I didn’t expect about research was... the amount of time, repetition, persistence, effort and dedication it requires.

What surprised me about myself was... how much I enjoyed the challenge of thinking through technical and conceptual problems and applying the theory I learned in the classroom to research.

Fun Facts about you: (hobbies, interests, places traveled, weird skills, etc.)
I don’t like eating seafood but I love eating sushi.