Chemistry professors, technicians and students shine at annual national conference

Undergraduate research and innovative teaching showcased at last spring's Canadian Chemistry Conference.

Tia Lalani - 07 December 2018

Professor James Kariuki (left) awards his student Ben Schmidt with second place in the best undergraduate analytical poster competition at the 2018 Canadian Chemistry Conference for his work on low-cost electrodes utilizing 3D printers.

It's not often that an entire department gets to showcase their skills in one venue at one time. But that was the case for the Augustana Chemistry Program at the 101st Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition held last May in Edmonton.

Three chemistry professors, two chemistry lab technicians and three students attended the conference, which yielded six poster presentations, a trade show and two awards-both won by fourth-year student Ben Schmidt. Schmidt, along with fellow student Jared Baker, had the opportunity to not only participate in undergraduate research but to present to and be evaluated by a great number of people, including some of the biggest names in the chemistry industry.

"I really enjoyed the conference and I'm grateful that I got to attend," said Schmidt, who also spoke about what valuable experience the conference provided for his future. "Being able to say that I've won prizes at a national conference is definitely an advantage that I can add to my resume."

Schmidt won second place in the best undergraduate chemistry education student poster competition as well as second place in the best undergraduate analytical student poster competition. His chemistry education poster focused on his work as a teaching assistant in a three-week chemistry course last January, while his analytic project centers around his work in designing low-cost electrodes using a 3D printer with professor James Kariuki.

"It was outstanding to see Ben win two awards in the same conference, in two different areas," said Kariuki, who also attended the conference and had the opportunity to co-organize an electrochemistry symposium. For him and colleague Elizabeth McGinitie, networking and the honour of being invited to organize sessions went hand-in-hand with having the opportunity to share the work that they're doing at Augustana.

"We're able to highlight the innovative teaching and pedagogical practices that we have the ability to implement at Augustana because it's an undergraduate-intensive University," said McGinitie, who also presented with her student, Baker, on an inorganic chemistry project.

While the program presented on both analytical and inorganic research, the bulk of their presentations were centered on pedagogy and chemistry education. Along with Schmidt's presentation, Kariuki, McGinitie and fellow professor Brian Rempel presented on two-stage exams, while chemistry technicians David King and Magrieta Snyman presented on teaching experimental design to help student engagement in general chemistry. Finally, Rempel was joined by biology professor Sheryl Gares and physics professor Ian Blockland to share experiences from their three-week laboratory course for non-science majors.

"Everything that we've done at this conference is only going to serve the chemistry program at Augustana," said McGinitie. "In terms of the connections we make for our students and sharing and bringing back really awesome ideas with respect to disciplinary research and how we're improving our courses and labs. These are all things that students will directly benefit from."

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 Circle Magazine.