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Local chemistry conference empowers student researchers

Participants of the ninth annual Summer Organic Chemistry Conference on Everybody's Research (SOCCER) on the St. John's campus.

 

By Kelly Foss

The Department of Chemistry recently hosted the ninth annual Summer Organic Chemistry Conference on Everybody's Research (SOCCER), a local conference for undergraduate and graduate students involved in organic chemistry research.

This year's prize winners included graduate students Tayel Al-hujran, Shuai Liang, Penchal Reddy Nandaluru, Rakesh Throat and Kiran Sagar Unikela, and undergraduate student Jill Nash.

Graham Bodwell, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, organizes the conference.

"I initiated the conference in 2004 for the purpose of providing our students with conference experience," explained Dr. Bodwell. "Unlike many mainland institutions, where there are clusters of universities close by, our students don't get the opportunity to attend a lot of regional meetings.

"This way students get an additional chance to participate in a conference and have one more thing they can add that to their CVs. That puts them in a better position when they're applying for national scholarships."

Dr. Bodwell says one important feature of the conference is the keynote speaker that he brings in annually.

"When I ask people to do this, the proviso is they have to be there for the whole conference and spend time with our students," he said. "I usually try to pick someone who is a new professor – usually an up and coming Canadian star. So our students get to benefit from interacting with that person."

This year's guest speaker was Michel Gravel of the University of Saskatchewan. In addition to the value the visiting speaker brings, Dr. Bodwell says the conference allows students the opportunity to become better aware of the other research that is occurring in the department.

"Often the groups can be quite insular and this conference can help foster collaboration or cross-fertilization of ideas, as well as the development of departmental spirit through the fun things that go on throughout the conference."

The fun includes a mini-golf tournament, a mixer, a banquet, an evening playing pool and, of course, a soccer game.

But the greatest benefit, according to Dr. Bodwell, is seeing the progress made annually by the participants.

"The development of students from year-to-year is a real pleasure to watch," he said. "Having this experience here and then having the confidence to go on to participate in a national conference – well, obviously the students are much better prepared after presenting here in this relatively friendly environment."

Next year, for the conference's 10th anniversary, Dr. Bodwell is hoping to do something special to mark the occasion. While he is still developing ideas, he already has one possibility in mind.

"Over the years we had very generous private support from Dr. Hugh Anderson, a professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry, who sadly passed away this year. He was always there to step up with support anytime we needed it. Hopefully we can create a lasting legacy that will honour him in some way."

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