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Marquis Scholar Sandra Rodriguez ’08 (Mendham, N.J.) used cutting-edge technology to study devices called gold electrodes that conduct electrons into and out of solutions.

Her research with this technology helped her gain a greater understanding of the fabrication of transducers, devices that convert one energy form into another, and biosensors, systems or devices that detect chemicals in living material. She also learned analytical and laboratory techniques and chemical principles of gold molecules.

Under the guidance of Tina Huang, assistant professor of chemistry, Rodriguez performed preliminary studies for fabricating gold electrodes. They used a very small-scale fabrication process called nanoscale technique, which allowed them to examine the interaction between the gold and biomolecules like protein and DNA.

Rodriguez and Huang collaborated as part of the EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Huang’s work is supported by a $210,549 National Science Foundation grant that is enhancing undergraduate research and teaching capabilities at Lafayette within the increasingly important field of nanotechnology, in which research is conducted and components are constructed on the molecular level.

Rodriguez operated a scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) device to study gold electrodes and detect their structural properties. She also formed gold electrodes and ones stripped of some properties.

Both fabrications were self-assembled monolayers (SAMs), used to study organic and biological interfaces. SAMs are tiny, technical structures that represent a unique bond between organics and technology created to change their physical characteristics.

“Sandra’s role in this project has been fabricating atomically flat gold surfaces so we could put the biomolecules on them and study them under the microscope,” Huang says.

The goal was to understand SAMs, which may be used to fabricate transducers and biosensers and serve as protective layers in the fabrication process.

“The reason we fabricated electrodes is so we can study the formation of the gold electrodes using electrochemistry, atomic force microscopy (AFM), and STM,” explains Rodriguez, a biology major.

Rodriguez, who plans to become a pediatrician, worked with chemistry major Matt Coughlin ’07 (Boyertown, Pa.) on the project, which began in fall 2004 when Huang received a National Science Foundation grant to purchase the STM and an atomic force microscope.

Rodriguez appreciated Huang’s light sense of humor, especially when lab work became difficult. She also is grateful that Lafayette has enabled her to conduct quality research.

“The opportunity to work with high-tech equipment such as the atomic force microscope was a bit nerve wracking at the beginning,” Rodriguez says. “I know that I would have probably not had this opportunity at another school, especially at a large university. That is one of the reasons I chose a small school like Lafayette.”

“Conducting research early in [a student’s] academic career really shapes how students think about their subject,” Huang says. “I believe it provides an environment where the students can learn by doing, and this is very effective in transferring knowledge.”

Rodriguez’s detail-oriented nature helped her succeed with the project.

“The most important thing that Dr. Huang taught me is that there is a solution to every obstacle you encounter in the lab,” she says. “Everything is fixable, and obstacles are just part of research. It’s very much a trial-and-error working environment.

“The professors at Lafayette are very understanding and committed to making sure the students get hands-on experience and gain knowledge that will help them in the future while carrying out the experiments,” she adds.

Rodriguez received the Dr. Eugene Deloatch ’59 Award for First-Year Achievement in Science. She volunteers with the Landis Community Outreach Center and is a member of College Choir and Lafayette Christian Fellowship. She is a graduate of West Morris Mendham High School.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Rodriguez receive a special academic scholarship and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded course abroad or in the United States during January’s interim session between semesters or the summer break. Marquis Scholars also participate in mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty and cultural activities in major cities and on campus.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News