California Lutheran University's chemistry department has received a challenge grant worth up to $500,000 in matching funds for research by undergraduate students from the John Stauffer Charitable Trust.
The grant represents a triumph for the university's small chemistry department, which has plans to grow.
Chemistry professor Grady Hanrahan is excited about the prospects of researching organic, analytical and biochemistry at CLU this summer.
"It's really a community of scholars we're forming," Hanrahan said. "We're still at three faculty in chemistry, and we're getting a fourth soon, but being able to do this research is really an important thing for us."
Hanrahan and colleague John Tannaci, an assistant professor of chemistry, will operate the undergraduate student research project funded by the grant.
"These awards have gone to other very prestigious universities like Cal Poly Pomona. But they liked our institutional approach and were happy to support it," Hanrahan said, adding that the full funding will support 10 students doing research for eight weeks each summer forever.
CLU has raised $200,000 from an anonymous donor this year, and the Stauffer trust has matched that. The university is reaching out to alumni, donors and supporters to obtain the maximum grant amount, although it does not have to do so in just one year.
Tannaci, who teaches organic chemistry and other subjects, said the grant will fund full-time research, materials and supplies, and attendance at conferences and seminars.
"A lot of our students are looking to work in biotech or at pharmaceutical companies or go to graduate school, and really the best way to make yourself an applicant is to have experience in hands-on research," Tannaci said.
Hanrahan and he said that the university's goal is to provide summer research opportunities for all interested, qualified students. A program called the Swenson Science Fellowships provide two or three opportunities each summer.
"We want to sort of snowball these experiences for students," Tannaci said. "For Stauffer, the idea is to stimulate science study for undergraduates. It's a pretty big deal. There aren't many field-specific endowments for undergraduate research in chemistry. This is going to help put us on the map."
Keenan Woods, a senior from Poway in CLU's chemistry program, received a Swenson fellowship and worked with Tannaci on summer research and assisted in a summer class at the university.
"It's been beneficial to me because I'm applying to graduate schools and I can put on my résumé that I've been doing research for three years," he said.
Woods said he focused on improving materials for organic solar cells.
"I particularly like organic chemistry, and I've applied to nine different schools. I just heard back from University of Oregon and was accepted," Woods said. "The department at CLU is pretty small right now, but it will soon have another professor, and the research money will help grow it even more."
--- Published in the Ventura County Star on Jan. 21, 2013