April 30 2008
Two years ago, Swara Kopparty had finished studying advanced placement chemistry in high school and was looking for a research project. That desire led her to Indiana State University and Eric Glendening, chair and professor of chemistry and interim chair of physics.
â€œI knew he had mentored other students from South,â€ she said. â€œI thought he would be willing to mentor me.â€
After meeting with Kopparty, Glendening suggested a project. Koppartyâ€™s research into that project is taking her to the national Junior Science and Humanities Symposium from April 30 to May 4 in Orlando, Fla. The symposium promotes original research and experimentation in the sciences, engineering and mathematics at the high school level and publicly recognizes students for outstanding achievement. The winner of the national competition receives a $16,000 scholarship. Kopparty already secured one scholarship after winning the statewide symposium competition at ISU in March.
Glendening said Koppartyâ€™s project -- â€œThe Nature of Bonding in Metal-Carbonyl Complexesâ€ -- has the potential to do well at the national competition. The project is one of several that Glendening said he has thought of pursuing.
â€œI have a series of projects in the back of my mind that I think would be fun to do one day,â€ he said. â€œThey donâ€™t require a degree in computational chemistry or quantum mechanics. They usually relate to fundamental concepts that students learn in AP chemistry, yet theyâ€™re publishable projects, which makes them valuable to work on.â€
Kopparty described her summer working in ISUâ€™s chemistry lab as an â€œenriching experienceâ€ and one that introduced her to a different type of chemistry.
â€œI learned a lot about computational chemistry,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™d never heard about this field.â€
Kopparty said by using computational chemistry, scientists are able to examine molecules in a way that they couldnâ€™t in a regular laboratory.
â€œWhat I do is look at the structure of simple molecules,â€ Kopparty said about her research. â€œI try to find what holds molecules together.â€
â€œShe did all the calculations,â€ Glendening said. â€œIf there was a problem, sheâ€™d come and weâ€™d talk about it. Then sheâ€™d have to go off and resolve the problem on her own.â€
Students learn problem solving in computational chemistry projects, just as they would in a â€œwetâ€ laboratory.
â€œItâ€™s more than plugging numbers in a calculator,â€ he said. â€œThe calculations are all done on campus using a high-performance computer. Without that resource, it would be difficult to tackle a project like Swaraâ€™s.â€
Kopparty, then 14, worked in the lab with college students as she researched her project.
â€œI made friends with them,â€ she said. â€œIt was fun.â€
Glendening said Kopparty and the undergraduate students interacted as peers.
â€œThe undergraduates would help Swara with problem solving,â€ he said. â€œAt the same time, Swara had the potential to help the undergraduates. Itâ€™s not a one-way street, itâ€™s two-way.â€
For Glendening, Kopparty is the fifth high school student he has worked with on a project and the third to reach a national competition.
â€œThese high school students are very talented,â€ he said. â€œThey push themselves very hard. Theyâ€™re very articulate. One can have a conversation with these students at a very high level â€" the same as with a first- or second-year graduate student.â€
Kopparty, who hasnâ€™t decided where she will attend college in the fall, plans to study engineering or physics. She has already passed Glendeningâ€™s name along to other students at South Vigo.
â€œA lot of them asked me how I got started on it. A few freshmen or sophomores are interested in doing research,â€ she said. â€œIt was very nice of Dr. Glendening to mentor me. Not many professors would willingly give their time to high school students. Itâ€™s uncommon and I really appreciate it.â€
Glendening enjoys working with the students.
â€œThe students have the background knowledge in math and science that allows them to excel with these projects,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a pleasure to work with them.â€
Contact: Eric Glendening, chemistry chair and interim physics chair, Indiana State University, at 812-237-2235 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, at 812-237-7972 or email@example.com
Cutline: Eric Glendening, Indiana State University chair and professor of chemistry and interim chair of physics, and Swara Kopparty, a senior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, show a project that she researched under his guidance. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem
Cutline: Swara Kopparty, a senior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, shows an image of her research project â€œThe Nature of Bonding in Metal-Carbonyl Complexes.â€ ISU Photo/Kara Berchem
A Terre Haute South Vigo High School senior received a boost in her science studies from Indiana State University that has helped lift her to a national science competition.