Phuong Bui '15: "SURF gave me the opportunity to learn how to do background literature
research and how to analyze articles."
Randolph-Macon College student
Phuong Bui ’15 has spent the last year doing research in the Copley
Science Center. Her work culminated in a SURF (Schapiro
Undergraduate Research Fellowship) project that she presented at the recent
The chemistry major and
mathematics minor, who hails from Vietnam, is passionate about research.
“I’ve been taking a Directed Study course with Chemistry Professor John Thoburn
for a year and I absolutely love to work in the lab,” says Bui. “Just recently,
I finally made a compound that I’ve been trying for months to make. The feeling
of finally achieving something after a lot of effort is amazing.”
Bui’s project was titled Synthesis of Ruthenocenyl based C5 Ligands.
“My current goal is to build a pentagonal ligand,” she explains. “Ultimately, I
hope to build a molecule cage with the shape of a dodecahedron using identical copies
of such ligand.”
“Bui spent many hours exploring the effects of temperature, solvent, and oxygen
content on the reactions in order to find the reactions’ conditions that would give
her the best yields,” says Thoburn. “But it’s more than just mixing chemicals. A
big part of her SURF time was spent purifying the products using column chromatography,
which helped her separate different substances based on their polarity. The real
excitement comes when you have a product that is finally ready to characterize.
In most cases this is done using R-MC’s state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance
(NMR) spectrometers, which can reveal molecular structure with exquisite clarity.”
Learning by Doing
Bui says the benefits of SURF are many.
“SURF gave me the opportunity to learn how to do background literature research
and how to analyze articles related to my research,” she says. “Above all, it taught
me what research means: we fail and we fail and we fail, but as long as we keep
going, we’ll finally gain something—but the end result may be much different than
our initial expectations.”
Working with Thoburn was crucial to Bui’s success in the lab.
“Professor Thoburn gave me suggestions about which solvents to use, and he helped
me interpret my data, thereby leading me in the right direction,” says Bui, whose
future plans include
medical school. “Above all, he’s very supportive. Without his encouragement,
it would have been very difficult for me to have a successful SURF project.” Bui’s
research has also been supported by the
Sabra Klein Maloney ’92 Fellowship Program for Women in the Sciences. The
fellowship is designed to support students interested in graduate opportunities
in the lab sciences.
Thoburn says, “It has been an absolute delight working with Phuong. She brings a
spirit of dedication and fun into the lab. Her contributions have made the project
a success. I’m glad she has taken advantages of the research opportunities that
Bui, along with several other students, traveled to Haiti recenlty to implement
their project, “A Spark of
Hope for Peace,” which stresses the value of education in promoting peace
in Haiti. The project was made possible by a grant that R-MC was awaded from the
Davis United World College Scholars program. With the help of Haiti Outreach Ministry,
the R-MC team used the grant to sponsor the secondary education of a Haitian student.
They also donated 41 French books for a new library in the HOM, and organized a
four-day arts-and-crafts summer camp for 11 orphan girls.
The SURF program was established in 1995 through a generous gift made by Ben ’64
and Peggy Schapiro. The Schapiros continue to support this program, which promotes
scholarly undergraduate research by R-MC students in all disciplines.