Summer scientists get
head start on freshman year
By Megan Fellman
Starting their college careers early, 12 incoming freshmen took part in a six-week
workshop of collecting soil samples in Chicago neighborhoods and analyzing
the samples for their lead content.
The students were the first participants in the new Undergraduate Success in
Science (USS) program at Northwestern. Hilary Godwin, associate professor of
chemistry and one of only 20 scientists in the country to be appointed a Howard
Hughes Medical Institute Professor, created the program to bring the creativity
her students have shown in the laboratory to the undergraduate classroom.
“This research project — to map out soil lead levels in neighborhoods
in the city of Chicago — is desperately needed,” said Godwin. “It
was a great project because the kids learned about the city and actually did
fieldwork and became familiar with neighborhoods.” Godwin, who studies
how lead interacts with biological molecules and how those interactions result
in lead toxicity, taught the workshop with J. Scott Baker, assistant professor
of chemistry at Chicago State University.
By immersing students in a research project early in their undergraduate years,
Godwin hopes that a positive experience in the sciences will encourage students
to consider graduate school and a career in academia.
Students who completed the summer workshop also may pursue independent research
projects during their freshman year in the laboratories of Godwin and her collaborators
as well as participate in community outreach activities in collaboration with
Chicago health care workers and educators in the Chicago Public School system.
The summer program focused on sharpening important academic and team-building
skills. Students worked in teams to collect and analyze soil samples and then
compared the distribution of lead contamination within Chicago neighborhoods
to historical usage of the land and to lead poisoning rates. In addition to studying
environmental contamination, they learned about frontier areas of science, including
biosensors and nanotechnology.