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Eastern Michigan University

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Posters on the Hill

by Linda Hass

Ian Pendleton (BS12) combined his passion for chemistry with top-notch research opportunities at EMU to earn a spot on one of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate research forums this spring.

Ian Pendleton in a lab

Pendleton, who received a bachelor of science degree in professional biochemistry in April, was one of 74 students chosen by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR ) to present his research on improved methods for producing drugs at the 2012 “Posters on the Hill,” held in Washington, D.C., April 24.

The annual event, which drew 850 applicants nationwide, is designed to help lawmakers understand the importance of

undergraduate research programs. Pendleton spoke before members of Congress, their staffs and funding agencies in the Rayburn Office Building near the Capitol. This was his second trip to Washington for a CUR -sponsored event.

“The selection process for Posters on the Hill is extremely competitive; we’re very proud of Ian’s accomplishment,” said Wendy Kivi, event coordinator for EMU ’s Undergraduate Symposium. “His selection shows that our students’ scholarly work competes with the best in the country.”

Pendleton says it was an honor to be chosen, but also a bit nerve-racking. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to explain the technicalities of my research to an everyday audience,” the 21-year-old Ypsilanti native says. “ I needed to simplify my findings enough to be clear, but no so much that the research lost its impact. Striking that balance was challenging,” added Pendleton, the first in his immediate family to earn a college degree.

Explaining the nature of Pendleton’s research in everyday English is indeed challenging. A simplistic analogy would be a sous chef who does not bake a cake, but instead condenses the ingredient list in several time-saving and energy-efficient ways for a less experienced baker. But in this case, the “cake” has the potential to heal those who ingest it.

For the scientifically inclined, Pendleton’s research helped identify a unique reaction that allows molecular bonds to be formed in a single test tube as opposed to multiple tubes or containers. Ultimately, this single-tube method saves energy and thus is more environmentally friendly than alternative methods of achieving the same goal, he says.

“Ian’s new version of a chemical reaction produces much less waste than methods used in the past,” says his mentor, Professor Harriet Lindsay, who worked with Pendleton for nearly four years thanks to a Symposium Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) sponsorship from the DTE Energy Foundation, a charitable arm of DTE Energy.

“Furthermore, it accelerates the reaction by using microwave heating, which is much more efficient than convectiontype heating; thus less energy is required to generate more product,” Lindsay says, adding this new and improved reaction could potentially be used in various drugs.

Kivi says Pendleton’s collaboration with Professor Lindsay reflects the kind of success that EMU ’s undergraduate research program fosters.

As honored as Pendleton was to be chosen for the Poster event, his deepest sense of fulfillment came from concluding his research this spring when he successfully transformed a liquid compound into a solid so the exact locations of the atoms could be analyzed.

“Even through all the stress of graduation, I found great joy in knowing that I completed a research project before moving on to graduate school,” he said. “The last four years seem like a blur of lab work and furious studying, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I loved every minute.”