What happens when silver nanoparticles are released into the environment? Does gas density impact the migration of a newly forming planet?

These are heady questions. And two intrepid Cougars are trying to find the answers. Students Sondrica Goines and Wendell Roberson were recognized at the Research Bound in STEM workshop, which recently took place at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. CofC took the top spots in two of three categories in the workshop’s research poster contest. Goines placed first in the chemistry category. Roberson placed first in astrophysics.

The pair were among 20 students competing from six schools, including Tuskegee University, Stillman College and Georgia Tech. Professors from related disciplines judged the students’ research based on visual displays and their ability to present and explain their work. Goines and Roberson attended the event through their participation in the College of Charleston’s Louis Stokes South Carolina Alliance for Minority Participation (SCAMP), a four-year program for minorities majoring in science disciplines.

“Being able to go to conferences, such as Research Bound, just being able to talk to people about my research is just really exciting,” says Goines, a junior majoring in chemistry.

Goines’ study of silver nanoparticles with chemistry professor Katherine Mullaugh is at the forefront of the burgeoning field of nanoparticle research. Silver nanoparticles are found in a variety of consumer goods such as clothes, cleaning products, toys and even medication. With the ubiquitous presence of these tiny particles, questions have begun to arise about their potential impact on the environment as these everyday items are discarded.

By testing the behavior of these particles in water, Goines hopes to create a mathematical model that can help scientists understand what’s going to happen when the nanoparticles are released into aquatic environments.

“It’s just this totally new field and to be able to learn about something that nobody else knows about, that’s awesome to me,” Goines beams.

Roberson’s research with physics professor Ana Uribe aims to better define the factors at play in the evolution of planetary systems. The pair ran computer simulations to assess the rate of migration of a forming planet toward its parent star based on gas density within a protoplanetary disk, a ring of matter, including gas and dust, from which a planet may eventually form.

The implications are out of this world, shedding light on how planets outside our solar system (as well as Earth) formed over millions of years.

Roberson, a junior majoring in astrophysics, explains his research this way, “It’s basically like putting physics into a time machine and watching it happen on a computer.”

Both students received grants to fund their undergraduate research. Goines’ research was supported by a grant through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Roberson’s research was funded through the College’s Summer Undergraduate Research with Faculty (SURF) grant as well as funding through the SCAMP program.