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Education and Public Outreach

Summer Undergraduate Research Program


In concert with the VA-NC Alliance, our goal is to increase the numbers of undergraduate majors in STEM fields and, therefore, the program uniquely targets undergraduate students following their freshman or sophomore years in college. The summer program strives to increase student interest in scientific research and also provides activities to develop learning skills for the physical sciences. In addition to hands on research, students participate in classroom activities in chemistry, physics, and astronomy, as well as career and professional development activities.




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The summer research program introduces students to the collaborative research model used by the CCU. Students are placed in three small groups focusing on observational radio astronomy, chemical reactivity and spectroscopy, and instrument development. A single research project for the teams to attack is selected from recent CCU research. The groups work on separate aspects of the project and then spend Friday together describing their results and placing them into the context of the overall research goals. The students are also given time to pursue a project of their own design near the end of the program. The students prepare a research poster and present it at the University of Virginia undergraduate poster session. They also prepare an oral talk that is presented in a final session with projects from other VA-NC Alliance groups. Details of the Summer Program, including the student’s posters and slides, can be found here (2010) and here (2011). Information for the application process can be found here.


Media Projects


The CCU has also actively worked with general science publications and media groups to bring the basic concepts of interstellar chemistry to a public audience. Members of the CCU contributed to an article titled “The Final Chemistry Frontier” that was published in Science News in January 2010. A second general science article on interstellar chemistry, to which CCU scientists contributed, appeared in Discover Magazine in November 2010.


A television documentary on the construction of ALMA is currently being filmed by PBS, who came in October and filmed a segment in CCU facilities showing how measurements on Earth are used to understand the chemical composition of space. Filming is scheduled for October 2010. Additionally the CCU has had extensive discussion with the Smithsonian Network and a concept for a 90 minute television special on interstellar chemistry has been developed. Finally, the CCU is working with the Discovery Networks to include a significant “origins of chemistry” segment in a program planned for their series called “Curiosity [The Questions of Our Life TM]: Explorations in Science, Civilization and Living.” This series is tentatively scheduled to include 60 hour-long episodes filmed over the next five years (12 episodes airing each year on the Discovery Channel with a Sunday 8PM premier time slot). The interstellar chemistry segment is scheduled to be part of the show devoted to our cosmic origins.


Student Education and Training


The CCU has organized and/or participated in several workshops, including the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) "Research to Innovation (R2I)", and the CCU Workshop "Advancing Chemical Understanding through Astronomical Observations". We have also sent students to a variety of conferences to present center research, which is addressed in the activities below. Many of our students work in different CCU labs obtaining new skill sets broadening their educational experiences beyond one Principal Investigator’s research.


The CCU Lecture Series serves as an educational tool as well. We have had many top scientists come and speak to our graduate students and post-docs, including Thomas Wilson of the NRL and John T. Yates. This Lecture Series also gives some of our post-doctoral students an opportunity to present and share their piece of the Center’s research.


Kevin Lehmann of the CCU is currently co-teaching via video conference a graduate level Molecular Spectroscopy class with David Perry of the University of Akron. Utilizing the video technology of today the CCU is bring together scientists in the top of their fields to work together to educate tomorrow’s scientific researchers. We hope to use this class as a prototype for an undergraduate class taught by Brooks Pate in Phase II of the CCU Center, which will give unique opportunities to students in primarily undergraduate institutions.


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EPO Activities: Past and Present


  • February 12, 2011
  • Brooks Pate and Matt Muckle participated in the Innovation Workshop, Teaching Nanotechnology within Virginia SOLs, sponcered by UVA's Center for Diversity in Engineering. Materials presented can be found here.

  • January 15-17
  • The CCU was a sponsor of the Spectroscopy 2011 Conference providing lodging and reduced registration fees for students with topics relevant to chemistry.

  • November 2010
  • PBS films CCU Laboratory at University of Virginia

  • September 9 - December 15, 2010

    The CCU hosted nine speakers for the CCU Lecture Series including Alyssa Goodman, Neil Evans, David Plusquellic, Robert McMahon, and Thomas Wilson. See events for a full list.

  • June 6 - July 31, 2010

    The CCU hosted its first annual summer research experience for undergraduates in partnership with the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation. The students worked collaboratively on the project "Is Formic Acid an Important Precursor to Methyl Formate in Interstellar Chemistry?" Each of the three groups, Observational Astronomy, Reactive Chemistry, and Spectroscopic Analysis, worked toward answering this question. The results of their summer research were presented on July 30, 2010 during an afternoon of oral presentations. In addition to their research, they participated in a variety of lectures and activities that focused more broadly on their continued scientific pursuits.

  • May 14, 2010

    The CCU hosted the student participants of the NRAO's First Annual Mayterm Institute for Undergraduates.

  • April 30, 2010

    Dr. Eric Herbst gave a presentation as part of the University of Virginia Chemistry Department's Seminar Series entitled "The Best Is Yet To Be: New Chemical Models of Stellar and Planetary Formation."

  • April 16, 2010

    The CCU hosted the Masterminds Club from Beverley Manor Middle School in Staunton, VA. The group toured both the NRAO Technology Center and the CCU laboratories at the University of Virginia as well as talked to Dr. Remijan via videoconference from the ALMA site in Chile.

  • March 21-25, 2010

    CCU participants (E. Herbst, B. Pate, M. McCarthy, S. Widicus Weaver, J. Laas) presented their research as part of "Recent Advances in Observational and Experimental Astrochemistry," a Special Session of the Division of Physical Chemistry at the 239th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in San Francisco, CA.

  • March 17, 2010

    Dr. Books Pate gave a presentation at the American Physical Society March Meeting 2010 entitled "Coherent Broadband Microwave Spectroscopy."

  • January 27-29, 2010

    Dr. Brooks Pate served as a guest lecturer for the "Frontiers in Spectroscopy" Chemical Physics Winter quarter course at Ohio State University. Lectures were entitled: "Molecular Rotational Spectroscopy and its Applications," "Molecular Rotation and Molecular Dynamics," and "Digital Technology and the Data Deluge."

  • October 11, 2009
  • The CCU hosted an activity booth at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) 2009 Astronomy Festival and Open House.

  • September 19, 2009

    The University of Virginia hosted the 2009 Virginia-North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (VA-NC LSAMP) Graduate School Preparation Retreat September 18-20.  Dr. Brooks Pate attended the retreat on Saturday to assist visiting LSAMP students with their graduate school applications, resumes, and personal statements.   

  • August 28, 2009

    Dr. Brooks Pate gave a presentation as part of the University of Virginia Chemistry Department's Seminar Series entitled "Chemistry in the Interstellar Medium."

  • August 6, 2009

    Dr. Anthony Remijan gave a presentation to the NRAO-Green Bank Governor's School students entitled "Investigating Astrochemistry."

  • August 4, 2009

    Matt Muckle, a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Brooks Pate at the University of Virginia, gave the TUNA Lunch Talk at the NRAO Headquarters in Charlottesville, VA entitled "Laboratory and Possible Interstellar Detection of Trans-methyl Formate."

  • July 29, 2009

    Dr. Anthony Remijan gave a presentation to the NRAO-Charlottesville summer undergraduates entitled "Interstellar Chemistry."

  • June 22-26, 2009

    CCU senior scientists, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students presented their research at the 64th International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy held at The Ohio State University.

  • May 26-29, 2009
  • The CCU, in association with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the North American ALMA Science Center, sponsored the 2009 CCU Workshop "Advancing Chemical Understanding through Astronomical Observations" at the site of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, WV.

  • April 22, 2009

    Dr. Michael McCarthy gave a presentation as part of the Harvard University Origins of Life Initiative entitled "Organic chemistry and the Chemical bond in Interstellar Space."

  • April 6, 2009

    Dr. Anthony Remijan gave a presentation to the Optical Technology Division at NIST entitled "Astrochemistry in the New Millennium: Centers, Surveys and Databases."

  • April 2-4, 2009

    Five graduate and postdoctoral students represented the CCU at the NSF and National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) "Research to Innovation (R2I)" workshop held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center, Cambridge, MA.

  • March 23-26, 2009

    Dr. Lucy Ziurys and members of her University of Arizona astrochemistry research group along with the staff of the Arizona Radio Observatory hosted graduate and postdoctoral students from the other CCU institutions (UVA, OSU, and Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) for the 2009 CCU Spring School. The students participated in various exercises demonstrating how chemists collect and interpret radio astronomy data.

  • February 26, 2009

    Dr. Anthony Remijan gave a presentation to the Blue Ridge Astronomy Club entitled "So What Is This Thing Called 'Astrochemistry' Anyway?"

  • November 8, 2008
  • The CCU hosted a laboratory exhibit called “Chemistry at the Center of the Galaxy” for the annual Virginia Junior Academy of Sciences' Science Career Symposium. 

  • October 16, 2008

    Dr. Eric Herbst gave a presentation as part of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's 2008-2009 Frontiers of Astronomy lecture series entitled "Chemistry Meets Astronomy: The Role of Molecules in Understanding Stellar and Planetary Formation."

  • Early 2008
  • Dr. Lucy Ziurys worked with the NPR public radio show Pulse of the Planet to produce a Science Diaries program series on chemistry in space. It began airing on May 12, 2008.