The Falvey Scholars Program is an annual program established by Falvey Library to recognize outstanding undergraduate research. Now in its 20th year, the program is a collective initiative of the Library and the Center for Research and Fellowships. The recipients of this award are selected from a pool of candidates nominated by Villanova faculty and reviewed by Library staff and faculty.
This year, eight students received awards, their work reflecting the breadth and depth of undergraduate research at the University as well as the support the Library, its resources and staff, provide student-scholars.
This blog is the third of seven installments, which will introduce our scholars and cover their research in their own words. Look for additional coverage of the Falvey Scholars in the fall issue of Mosaic.
Congratulations to all of our Falvey Scholars, past and present!
Nicole Garcia ’22 CLAS
- Project Title: “Metal-catalyzed synthesis of isoprene polymers with optimized isomer distribution” Catalyst for synthetic rubber formation
- Faculty Mentor: Deanna Zubris, PhD, Professor of Chemistry
- Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.
- Other Honors: Villanova Presidential Scholarship; O’Malley Scholarship (Chemistry Department); the G.N. Quam Medallion for Chemistry (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences); Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellowship; and the American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award in Inorganic Chemistry
Describe your research in your own words:
My research focuses on polyisoprene, which is the main component of natural rubber, and coming up with a sustainable, high efficiency way to synthesize it in the lab, due to a lack of natural rubber resources due to climate change and increased demand of medical personal protective equipment from the Covid-19 pandemic. I made 30 different polyisoprene samples using varying reaction conditions and analyzed the content of each sample to determine what properties synthetic rubber would have when being made using different temperatures, reaction times, and catalysts.
How did the Library’s staff impact your research and academic experience?
While this particular research project relied more heavily on Falvey’s databases, the Library staff have been so helpful to my academic career in general. I had the opportunity to learn about the databases we have access to as well as how to do scientific writing from a research librarian through a session as a part of the Chemistry Department’s Professional Development Seminar. The Library’s staff were also super helpful in previous research projects where I required articles that were not available at this Library, as they were able to get me access through Interlibrary Loan, something I would not have been able to achieve without the guidance of Falvey’s staff.
How did Falvey’s resources and databases impact your research?
I began my senior thesis with a literature review on what existing work had been done regarding synthetic polyisoprene. The Library databases were crucial for this step in two significant ways. First, SciFinder Scholar, which can be accessed through Falvey, is a search engine for scientific papers and patents. One of the key features is the ability to search by drawing a chemical structure. Additionally, the Library’s access to plenty of important chemistry journals, including American Chemical Society publications and Elsevier, allowed me to access existing knowledge on polymers as well as plan my own laboratory experiments using reported syntheses and characterization methods. Without this information that the Library resources gave me, I would not have been able to build my research project.
What’s next for you?
Next year, I will be working as a synthetic chemist for Johnson Matthey, a sustainable chemicals company, as a part of their graduate rotational program. This means I’ll have three eight-month rotations at different laboratories across the country and a potential year working abroad in the United Kingdom.
Will you continue this research direction or has it inspired you to new research interests?
While my specific work with polyisoprene is most likely drawing to a close, this research project will be passed down to a younger member of the Zubris research team. For me, this project as well as my previous research experience has led me towards the field of green chemistry, or creating more sustainable ways to produce chemicals and materials we use everyday. I will be conducting research in green chemistry at my job at Johnson Matthey and I know that all of the research skills and knowledge I have gained through this senior thesis project will serve me well moving forward into this new role.
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