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Keck Grant To Fund New Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Published: April 15, 2015

A $500,000 grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation will fund new avenues for undergraduate research at CSULB in the rapidly expanding field of energy materials. The funding will create a new interdisciplinary education program, the Keck Energy Materials Research Program (KEMP), with new curriculum as well as allow for the expansion of state-of-the-art instrumentation to complement equipment on the campus. Undergraduate research has been identified as a high-impact practice that bolsters student achievement.

“Discovery and characterization of novel energy related materials are critical to meeting future energy and technology needs of society, so it’s a very hot research area,” said Young-Seok Shon, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at CSULB, who also serves as the lead on the grant. “Nanostructured materials are generating great excitement both in fundamental science and in the prospects of developing new and innovative technological applications for the benefit of society.”

Shon anticipates that KEMP will have annual cohorts of 10-15 students who will be supported by multiple faculty mentors. Three new courses will be developed through KEMP—a team-taught materials science lecture course, a materials science laboratory course and a colloquium for materials research. These courses will be coupled with existing chemistry and physics courses that add to the foundation in materials science, alongside intensive training in faculty research laboratories. Altogether, the new program offers CSULB students a remarkable educational and training option that will prepare them for graduate studies and careers in one of the most important areas of technological advancement in the global economy.

The new instrumentation will be critical for delivering cutting-edge energy-related materials research and engaging students in collaborative interdisciplinary research with faculty, as well as supporting the development of future interdisciplinary courses essential for launching a new materials science degree option.

Selected students will also receive summer research stipends. In addition, the grant will be used to support symposium speakers drawn from nationally recognized materials science research programs and student travel to present research at national conferences.

Integral to each student’s laboratory experience will be learning how to operate sophisticated scientific instruments—not commonly found at undergraduate institutions—to carry out the research. In fact, KEMP students will participate in all aspects of the research, from the development of hypotheses and specific research plans, to hands-on research, data analysis and interpretation, and professional dissemination.

Young Shon Portrait
Young Shon

Once they have conducted the research, students will learn how to present their findings. Each student will be mentored by faculty members with distinct yet complementary expertise–something very unique in the California State University system.

Working closely with Shon will be four faculty members—associate professor Xianhui Bu and assistant professor Shahab Derakhshan from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and associate professor Thomas Gredig and assistant professor Michael Peterson from the Department of Physics and Astronomy—who will collaborate in building a coordinated materials research and education program on campus.

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Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company.  The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical, science and engineering research.  The Foundation also maintains an undergraduate education program that promotes distinctive learning and research experiences for students in the sciences and in the liberal arts, and a Southern California Grant Program that provides support for the Los Angeles community in the areas of health care, civic and community services, education and the arts, with a special emphasis on children and youth from low-income families.  For more information, please visit the Keck Foundation website.