Senior chemistry major gains valuable experience as undergraduate research assistant
Research is often credited as being what moves humanity forward. Without it, there’d be no innovation, breakthroughs, or solutions to problems large and small. Getting an opportunity to receive mentorship from high-level researchers, and also lead his own funded research at a Carnegie Doctoral Research University, senior chemistry major Shayne Velho has prepared himself for unlimited possibilities in academia and industrial chemistry.
Chemistry at UMassD
What drew you towards studying chemistry?
"I was drawn to chemistry because I have always been fascinated with the world around us and I wanted to learn more about the unique processes that surround us every day. The education I have received has helped me to understand a lot more about the physical nature of our surroundings. Additionally, the idea of being able to make something new that could potentially help others was a very exciting prospect for me, driving me to synthetic research."
What drew you to UMass Dartmouth?
"When applying to universities, I heard about the excellent research labs and opportunities that were available to students here at UMass Dartmouth. When I dug a little deeper, I learned that this institution is regarded as a renowned research university with a culture of innovation, development, and support. The wonderful faculty in the chemistry department have helped push me and support me throughout my journey and I am where I am today thanks to their support."
An undergraduate researcher in Associate Professor Sivappa Rasapalli’s Lab, where he won a grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) for his project, “Synthesis of Benzimidazolyl-chalcone Derivatives,” Velho has gained invaluable experience that prepares him for a career in a research lab or in industry space.
How does partaking in research help prepare for a career in chemistry?
"The research grants I have received thus far have helped me in a variety of ways. They enable me to continue working in my research lab, where I work to publish my results in a scientific journal. The skills that I have learned in such a short time will help me in my future endeavors, whether it be in a research lab or working in industry space. Any publications that I am able to complete will also bolster my résumé, help with my future applications for graduate school, and eventually, a job opportunity."
What does being an undergraduate research fellow entail?
"My research position takes place in an organic synthetic lab, where we work to create new compounds. We often consult scientific literature to our work, but we also do original work in new areas that have not been previously explored. Much of our work is trial and error, setting up series of reactions and analyzing their products in hopes that we obtain the desired outcomes. This can make research very frustrating and time consuming, but also very rewarding.
"Our aim is to complete enough research on a project so that it can be published in a scientific journal, which is one of my own personal goals for this position. The grant awarded to me via the OUR will help tremendously on our work."
What did it mean to be awarded a grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research?
"I was very thankful and fortunate to be awarded this grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research. The research we delve into is very time consuming and expensive, so any funding we receive goes a long way to ensure we have the chemicals any other materials we may need. The money will ensure our lab is well-stocked with glassware, gloves, and other important things that keep us running and safe."
What does your project hope to do/solve?
"This project surrounds a class of organic compound, benzimidazole, which exhibit interesting medical chemistry properties. This class of compound possesses some anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, so being able to make various derivatives of this compound is very desirable. It is for these reasons that our work is in the space of medical synthetic chemistry. I was able to get involved in this after contacting Professor Rasapalli regarding a research position. Since then, we have worked together on this project, and I have collaborated with the other undergraduate students that make up our team."
Have you earned any other positions since starting undergraduate research?
"In the fall of 2022, I took on the role of Chemical Hygiene Officer. I was trained on the CEMS Chemical Inventory System used by the University, allowing me to become the chemical inventory and safety representative for our group. I also directly consult with the University Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department for routine safety upkeep. This opportunity is one that I am very grateful for because it is an incredible experience that I can take with me on my future endeavors in different labs."
Starting college in the fall of 2018, Velho faced the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic right in the middle of his college experience, forcing him to adapt, persevere, and overcome a wide variety of obstacles.
Do you have a favorite memory here?
"My favorite memory comes from the Spring 2019 semester when I was studying in the library with a small group of friends for our introductory chemistry class. It was early in the semester, quickly approaching our first exam. All of a sudden, Arnie the Corsair arrived and greeted us. It was my first time meeting him and I was able to take a picture with him. It relieved a lot of pressure and stress I was experiencing at that moment, and it is something I will never forget."
What are you most proud of accomplishing over the last four years?
"I am most proud of getting through the online year that took place during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was very difficult for many students, including myself, but I was able to work through the adversity and continue my academic career. There were many times where I considered quitting and taking on another career path, but I am so glad that I stuck with it looking back on it."
What’s your favorite thing about UMass Dartmouth?
"The Chemistry department faculty. It is like being a part of a family. Without the wonderful professors that make up the department, I don't think I would have been able to get to this point. My advisor, Associate Professor Emmanuel Ojadi, has helped me with so many things and I have learned so much from taking his classes."
Do you have anything lined up after you graduate?
"I have applied for the BS/MS 4+1 program in Organic Chemistry here at UMass Dartmouth, where I am just awaiting a response. I decided to apply for this program after my undergraduate research experience because I want to delve deeper into my courses by taking advanced graduate classes that will build upon my foundational knowledge. Following their decision, I will then decide whether I stay in a research lab or transition to the industry space."