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LETTER: Research as undergraduate can be massively valuable

The year was 1968, and I was a senior at Rutgers — a mere 50 years ago. Two of the greatest thrills that I experienced that year came in the form of an Art History class that I took as an elective and a research project that I chose as a chemistry major. Those Art History lectures were amazing — from Egyptian art, through Impressionism and all the way up to Modern Art. Only a few years ago, when visiting the Orvieto Cathedral in the Umbria region of Italy, the beauty of that Cathedral came back to me in a flash — just like when I first viewed it through my Janson's History of Art book 50 years ago.

In 1968 and the preceding summer, as part of a Rutgers undergraduate research program, I investigated the adsorption of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide on pyrophoric nickel — a form of nickel that ignites spontaneously in air. This study was carried out under the guidance of a graduate student in Professor Sidney Toby's laboratory. During that year I learned glass blowing and a variety of techniques that were needed for this research. At the end of the year, I was very gratified when I was able to figure out, myself, what my results actually meant. This led to my senior thesis, a copy of which sits on my desk at Lehigh University.

Fast forward 50 years, graduate school, 275 research publications and 10 patents. I can honestly say that the pride that I felt with that undergraduate research experience back in 1968 burns brightly to this day.  

Undergraduate research, if taken seriously, can prove rewarding beyond belief. 

Steven L. Regen graduated from Rutgers in 1968. He is a distinguished professor of chemistry at Lehigh University.

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