The Science of Success: GCU Students Perform Summer Research with Faculty
For the past three years, Kendal Park, N.J.-based Liquid Light Chemicals has funded the work of a student-faculty research team led by Dr. Prasad Lakkaraju, a GCU professor of chemistry. Most recently with the help of chemistry and criminal justice major Heidie Beyer, and military veteran and chemistry major Charlie Ryan, Dr. Lakkaraju has been trying to turn carbon dioxide into a number of different useful chemicals in the most efficient way, primarily through the use of solar energy. By doing so, these chemicals are developed without causing as much harm to the environment. They attempt to use this solar power to develop chemicals that would have been developed in much more environmentally harmful and inefficient ways.
BY MEGAN KELLY ’15
Dr. Lakkaraju and his team are responsible for the initial laboratory experiments, after which they provide Liquid Light with the results necessary to proceed to the next levels. Through their hard work, the team has already been successful in developing a chemical last year and is currently working on a second chemical development.
Last year, the research team was able to convert the chemical formate into a different chemical, oxalate. Currently, the team is working on turning the product oxalate into glycolic acid.
Heidie and Charlie are primarily responsible for carrying out the experiments, checking product purity, and conducting the analysis, all with the supervision and assistance of Dr. Lakkaraju. “For the most part, they [the students] are doing all of the planning of the experiments. They are trying to see which things work and which ones work better,” Dr. Lakkaraju stated.
For the students, this research project is a way to go above and beyond what is learned in the classroom. “I feel like I’m getting so much out of it that I wouldn’t get out of just the classroom,” Charlie stated. “You’re working with the faculty more, as well as the instruments in the lab.”
During this experience, Charlie was able to draw on different skills than most traditional students can. “It’s actually been a fun challenge. I went into the military right after high school, which I think has better prepared me for college,” Charlie commented. “I go into final papers and assignments excited to find the best way to tackle the challenge.”
During this process, both students must work to overcome challenges like these daily. “The truth is that things don’t work often, things rarely work perfectly,” Dr. Lakkaraju concluded. “It’s trying to go through all of the things that don’t work and finding the one thing that does work.”