Students, faculty, alumni show off their research at Georgia Gwinnett College STaRS event

Pic of Dr. Ajay Mallia and student

Biochemistry student Joel Suazo and Dr. Ajay Mallia discuss their research at the STaRS event. 

Research was on full display at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) last week at the college’s Science, Technology and Research Symposium (STaRS). The signature initiative, held annually for the past 13 years, was moved online briefly in 2020 and 2021 because of the global pandemic, but the in-person event came back in full force with more than 80 exhibits featuring sleek posters, unusual artifacts and interactive activities. 

Dr. Charles Pibel, associate dean and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in GGC’s School of Science and Technology, said the event allows budding scientists to present their work in a familiar environment.

“They are presenting science as a scientist,” he explained. “It’s a very important skill that students need to learn and communicate to their peers and the public. Even if they are not going to be a scientist, the event helps students practice communication and answer questions on a topic on which they have expertise.”

Pibel said that the event helps student researchers as they go on to present at research conferences and meetings. The hope is that after they’ve practiced presenting their work, they will be able to communicate effectively about complicated topics with prospective graduate mentors and eventually, prospective employers. 

“They can talk about real science they did while they were in college and present the results and demonstrate their proficiency to scientific and non-scientific audiences,” he said.

Alexander Merryman, 19, of Lawrenceville is a biochemistry major who graduated last year from the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology. Someday, Merryman hopes to be a surgeon, but currently, he’s spending his freshman year at GGC researching ways to analyze the elemental composition of different materials using a more cost-effective process. Merryman explained that similar to each person’s unique fingerprint, each element has its own wavelength or spectrum. Scientists use a spectrometer to identify and analyze those elements, but commercial spectrometers can cost upwards of $40,000 to purchase. 

So Merryman built his own spectrometer in GGC’s Optics, Photonics and Laser Laboratory using an inexpensive tattoo removal laser, which, when combined with a less expensive pocket spectrometer, essentially achieves the same result.

“Using a cosmetic pulsed laser, you can just order off of Amazon, it costs a lot less with fewer resources involved,” he said. “We were able to use engineering, physics and chemistry to make our own system.”

Joining students were faculty, who highlighted their research collaborations during the event. Dr. Ajay Mallia has worked with student Joel Suazo as part of the American Chemical Society’s SEED project when Suazo was a senior at Grayson High School in Gwinnett County. Now a biochemistry student at GGC, Suazo is continuing to research with Mallia. The pair is studying thixotropic 'self-healing' soft gel materials, which Mallia said can potentially be used in pharmaceutical materials and drug delivery vehicles.

Mallia said along with helping students communicate about their research, the STaRS event helps faculty to identify future research collaborations within and beyond the college.

“This is a great venue to present the importance of research to students, administrators and external partners.”

View and download STaRS event photos.

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