by Colton Campbell

Two University of West Georgia students saw their futures crystallize before their eyes this summer while conducting undergraduate research in Colorado and Austria.

Abby Denny
Abby Denny

Abby Denny and Perry Wasdin, both chemistry majors, embarked on adventures of a lifetime as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. In “REUs,” as they’re known, students leave the comfort of their home institutions to engage in new avenues of research and experimentation.

Denny studied chalcogen bonding in a lab at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, while Wasdin focused his research on polymerization at the Graz University of Technology in Graz, Austria.

Thanks to the experience – facilitated by UWG faculty members and staff members in the Office of Undergraduate Research – both Denny and Wasdin soon discovered that research is what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

“The experience of trying something new and pushing myself to grow as both a scientist and a person has really shaped my desire to continue my studies and research after I earn my bachelor’s degree,” said Denny, who spent weekends whitewater rafting and hiking in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. “This has given me a wonderful perspective of – and a sense of comfort with – the science community and what it means to complete research as a full-time job.”

Wasdin agreed, saying he was out of his comfort zone the entire nine weeks – ”but in the best way possible.”

“I was fortunate enough to work on both sides of research – the theoretical and the experimental – during my time in Austria,” said Wasdin, who spent his time outside the lab visiting eight other European countries from Italy to Slovakia. “I learned I want to be a researcher and pursue that as a career. This experience reinforced my career goals and helped narrow down what field I want to work in, too.”

UWG Department of Chemistry Chair Dr. Sharmistha Basu-Dutt sees REUs as experiences similar to an internship but in an academic setting.

Perry Wasdin
Perry Wasdin

“REUs provide opportunities for the student to improve technical and social skills by learning new instrumentation and new methods, as well as facilitating productive interaction with a group of researchers,” Dutt said.

Denny said she’s proud of the research experience she’s gained at UWG, her home institution, but her REU allowed her to devote all her time and attention to research, a luxury she can’t afford with other classes and obligations in Carrollton.

“The idea of being able to go somewhere and focus on research all day long was definitely attractive,” Denny said. “Not only did the faculty members introduce me to the idea of applying, but the Office of Undergraduate Research helped me understand what would be important to include in my application and offering me incredible feedback throughout the process.”

Wasdin also praised the faculty and staff members at UWG, particularly Kate Theobald, the manager of the Office of Undergraduate Research, housed in the UWG Honors College.

“I was involved with high-level discussions with Ph.D. candidates in chemistry as an undergrad,” Wasdin said. “I was expected to contribute, too – not just be a fly on the wall. I really believe I wouldn’t have been able to have that experience if it wasn’t for UWG.”

Posted on September 12, 2019