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Better Living through Chemistry and 3D Printing: CHEM 291 Students Present Pioneering Research

New scientific research is thriving at Hunter – among students as well as faculty.  Guided by Hunter’s eminent teacher-scholars in high-tech campus laboratories, undergrads are designing and conducting their own original studies in rapidly advancing fields like biochemistry and neuroscience. 

For young scholars planning careers in research and medicine, one prized mentor is Mandë Holford, a leading expert on applying the chemical and biological diversity of venomous marine snails to therapeutic drug discovery. Professor Holford teaches CHEM 291, in which every student joins a sub-group charged with conceiving and completing an original research project. The following semester, at a campus exhibition in the Leon and Toby Cooperman Library, the groups present posters explaining their work to the wider academic community.

Last spring, Professor Holford asked her CHEM 291 students to design projects that used 3D printing – one of the new technologies transforming research science. Working with Professor Holford – along with Mason Brown, reference librarian, and Dustin Wheeler, Chemistry Department electronics manager – students learned to define a specific research question, and to develop 3D objects to investigate that question. The class’s poster exhibition, which opened this fall in the Cooperman Library, is a dazzling display of creativity, experimentation and academic achievement.

Using organic silica, one CHEM 291 group created a new 3D artificial heart valve. Their goal is to assess silica’s effectiveness in resisting calcification and clotting, major causes of heart attacks and strokes. Another group used 3D printing to build a three-dimensional lithium-ion battery cathode. They hope to protect the environment by increasing the power and efficiency of a sustainable energy source.

“Today’s lithium battery cathodes are small and flat, and because lithium batteries produce limited power, they’re used mostly in small electronic devices. But in our 3-D model, the cathode’s increased porosity increases its surface area while decreasing its volume. And that makes room for more energy-producing ions,” said group member Rubaya Yeahia ’18. “By testing cost-efficient 3D models like this one, scientists may ultimately build a super battery capable of replacing oil as an energy source.”

Professor Holford created CHEM 291 last year with support from a hugely successful Hunter program – the President’s Initiative for Faculty Innovations in Teaching with Technology. Launched by President Raab in 2008, this program provides grants for the development and implementation of new pedagogical approaches. 

 “Although 3D printing is fast becoming mainstream – used to produce everything from industrial building blocks to intricate artwork – it is rarely used by scientists at research universities. So I’m pleased that CHEM 291 helps put Hunter in the forefront of the inevitable transition to 3D research and analysis,” Professor Holford said. “Our novel, integrative approach requires Hunter students to tackle this era’s serious scientific questions. It also prepares them to join the vanguard of 21st-century scholars investigating and developing new areas of cutting-edge research.”

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