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Three WIU Science Students Awarded Prestigious Summer Research Opportunities

May 3, 2017

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MACOMB, IL – Three students at Western Illinois University have been awarded prestigious Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) experiences to conduct research this summer.

The highly competitive positions, coordinated and funded by the National Science Foundation, have an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent. Each student receives a stipend of between $4,500-$5,000, as well as travel expenses and room and board. The students will then work with top scientists in their field, conducting high level research in state-of-the-art laboratories.

WIU students chosen for this summer include:

• Killian Tracey, a junior forensic chemistry major from Geneva, IL, will conduct research at the University of Iowa. Tracey said she applied to nine programs and accepted a position this summer with the Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute in Iowa City, IA.

"I will be living on campus, participating in research each day, partaking in seminars and career development activities, and presenting the results of my research at a conference," said Tracey. "I do not have my research mentor assignment yet, but the top three choices I listed in my application were all performing research in material science, so I assume that is what I will be doing as well."

Tracey said she would not have been able to obtain this experience without her resident assistant (RA) her first year at WIU, as well as her research advisor, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Brian Bellott.

"My RA introduced me to these programs, as she completed one in the summer of 2015," said Tracey. "She also introduced me to my current research advisor, Dr. Bellott, and he has given me endless opportunities to further my career in chemistry. I also would not have the experience necessary to be an outstanding candidate for this program without the grants and scholarships from the Centennial Honors College, the College of Arts and Sciences, RISE@WIU and Western Illinois University as a whole."

• Nicole Walker, a sophomore forensic chemistry and foreign languages and cultures double major from Lake Zurich, IL, was chosen for the chemistry REU program at the University of Kansas.

The summer program at the University of Kansas has 19 students, 10 of which are being funded by the NSF.

"These NSF REU programs exist across the country in a variety of STEM fields and are highly competitive (usually 300-500 people apply for each and only 8-12 people are accepted to participate)," said Walker. "As such, I applied to nine different programs who had mentors and projects that especially interested me (I was looking to do research in biological chemistry this summer). Of the nine I applied to, I was only accepted to one. Usually, these programs prefer juniors so that the students have taken more of the higher-level chemistry courses, though they do occasionally accept a few sophomores like me."

Walker said she has not yet been assigned a project for the summer, but projects her assigned mentor, Michael Johnson, has been working on involve the release and uptake of neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA and glutamate as they relate to disorders such as Huntington's disease and chemobrain (a condition where people undergoing chemotherapy experience a cognitive decline).

"When not researching, I shall be participating in a variety of career building activities geared toward teaching me professional skills, such as how to better present my research both orally and in written form," said Walker. "I would not have been a good candidate for this program without my RA, my mentor or the staff of the Centennial Honors College here WIU. My freshman year RA was the one who convinced me to start doing research in the first place, and also introduced me to my mentor, Dr. Bellott. He has been an invaluable resource, not only helping me learn how to preform research and apply for grants to fund it, but also in pushing me to present my research at conferences and gain confidence in my abilities as a chemist."

Walker also praised the staff at WIU's Centennial Honors College for helping her get involved on campus.
"The staff at the Honors College, especially Dr. Hardy, have been instrumental in getting me involved in campus events and organizations," she said. "Without Dr. Hardy's presidential leadership class freshmen year, I would not have had the confidence in myself nor the drive to have done half of the things that I have accomplished at WIU."

 Mattea Scanlan, a senior chemistry major from Platteville, WI, was chosen for the REU program at Indiana University this summer.

"As part of being selected, I will be working with a faculty mentor, Dr. Skrabalak, on the synthesis of nanocrystals and nanomaterials," said Scanlan. "I feel very honored to have been accepted at the REU at this prestigious university, and I'm excited for the chance to work with my faculty mentor and other students. WIU has given me the skills to successfully obtain this research experience by providing me with opportunities to do undergraduate research and to work one-on-one with faculty here."

For more information about the REU program, visit

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