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A UNC-CH Course Recently Received the UNC System’s Prestigious Undergraduate Research Program Award

A UNC-CH Course Recently Received the UNC System’s Prestigious Undergraduate Research Program Award


June 5, 2024 | By Aaron Pattillo-Lunt (Office of Undergraduate Research, OUR)

In an effort to redesign the Chemistry Department’s Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE), Dr. Jade Fostvedt, in collaboration with the Chemistry Department’s Dr. Michel Gagné, Dr. Jillian Dempsey, and Dr. Kathleen Nevins, set out to create a new project for CHEM 550L, a capstone synthetic chemistry laboratory course, and the proposed course was one of the recipients of the UNC Systems Research Program Award. The award provides the funding to make the proposed class redesign a reality. Congratulations to Dr. Fostvedt, the Chemistry Department, and the Ackland for their successful CURE proposal!

Reflecting Dr. Fostvedt’s commitment to creative and innovative teaching, students in the upcoming course titled Chemistry, Conversation, and CURE: Pigments and Dyes of Antiquity will be able to gain real world chemistry experience, increase their knowledge of scientific research, and help analyze the Ackland Art Museum’s collection. Dr. Fostvedt and Chemistry students who take the upcoming class will work in collaboration with the Ackland’s conservation staff to study known and unknown pigments within the Museum’s collection, assessing their stability and chemical composition.

“The interface between chemistry and art is rich in connections,” says Fostvedt. “Through our unique partnership with the Ackland, we hope to empower students to discover these connections in the laboratory and while walking the museum galleries. The chemistry of pigments and dyes spans organic (carbon-based) and inorganic (metal-based) molecules and extended materials; our aspiring synthetic chemists will be challenged to recreate pigments and dyes from antiquity, as well as rationally design new, safer, more colorfast pigments and dyes. Of course, we will also have to test our pigments on paper: I envision a final project in which we paint pictures out on the quad!”

In the first year of the course, Elizabeth Manekin, Head of University Programs and Academic Projects at the Ackland, is working to curate an installation focused on unknown blue pigments for students to study. Throughout the course, students will research and synthesize these organic and inorganic molecules and extended solids. Students will also collaborate with Dr. Josh Chen, the Director of Chemistry X-Ray Core Laboratory, and Dr. Bob Geil, Technical Director of the Chapel Hill Analytical and Nanofabrication Laboratory.

Collaboration with Dr. Chen’s and Dr. Geil’s labs will afford students in CHEM 550L the chance to use X-rays to monitor their solid-state pigment syntheses and the chance to apply cutting edge instrumentation to study of pigments within the Ackland’s collection. Ultimately, students will develop original research questions of their own to foster their knowledge as chemists and to help aid in conservation efforts at the Ackland, and the course will provide conservationists with a better understanding of the pigments in the artwork they are preserving. Students will share their findings both at the Ackland and at the Office for Undergraduate Research’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research.

Dr. Fostvedt and collaborators on the course also hope that studying art will encourage students to thoughtfully reflect on the relationship between their cultural heritage and the artwork they are studying. In personalizing the Chemistry CURE experience, they hope that STEM students from different backgrounds will find a deeper connection with their work and will, therefore, find inspiration to continue studying in the field.

We look forward to seeing the results of this exciting new course, which will first be offered in the Spring of 2025, and we encourage students to register!


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