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ORNL Undergraduate Research Profile: Stacie Schroll 

Undergrad gains confidence in career path through summer internship program


ORNL Intern Stacie Schroll

Community College Internship participant Stacie Schroll used her background in computer science and interest in chemical engineering to help Oak Ridge National Laboratory staff scientist Dr. Aditya Ashi Savara explore methods to create new chemical compounds.

Sophomore Stacie Schroll faced a dilemma shared by hundreds of thousands of undergraduates across the country: she wasn’t confident she had chosen the right career path, but she didn’t have enough experience in her major to decide against it, either. So when she learned of the Community College Internship (CCI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) from a faculty member during spring finals, she applied as soon as she could. It was a last minute opportunity that laid the groundwork for a lifelong career.

“Because of the internship, I can move forward in my major feeling confident that I have made a good choice and that I will enjoy my profession,” said Schroll, who attended Ball State University in art and computer science before transferring to Kellogg Community College and then Michigan State University for a degree in chemical engineering. “I count myself very fortunate that I was able to do this internship.”

The Community College Internship is administered through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), and sponsored by the DOE Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) in collaboration with the DOE laboratories. It offers community college students the opportunity to participate in technical projects at major research facilities across the nation, including ORNL, under the guidance of laboratory staff scientists or engineers.

Mentored by staff scientist Dr. Aditya Ashi Savara in the surface chemistry and catalysis group of ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division, Schroll helped run experiments to produce a chemical compound known as an allene, or 1,2-diene. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences Division.

Chemists are drawn to allenes because of their unique, double-bonded structure, a quality that makes them highly reactive and therefore difficult to find in nature and expensive to synthesize. Allenes especially pique the interest of pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, who can react allenes with other chemicals to create new drugs.

“A double bond is more reactive than a single bond, and if you have two double bonds right next to each other, that’s a lot of instability in one place, which also means a lot of energy in one place,” Schroll explained. “Nature has a tendency toward the less energetic state, which means it’s unlikely that two double bonds would be next to each other.”

In his past research, Savara found evidence of allene creation in an ultra high-vacuum environment using a colorless liquid called 2-butenal. This time around, Schroll and Savara used a colorless liquid called 2-propenal. The end goal was to create an allene called 1,2-propadiene, just as scientists had created the allene 1, 2-butadiene in previous experiments using 2-butenal.

“Creating 1,2-propadiene would confirm the conclusion of a past set of experiments and would suggest that the process for creating 1,2-dienes is general, instead of being simply something that occurred for 2-butenal. This could help in the creation of 1,2-dienes, since they are not thermodynamically favored and are difficult to manufacture.”

Although Schroll and Savara did not find evidence of 1,2-propadiene using 2-propenal by the end of the 10-week internship, Schroll at least helped further her mentor’s research and contribute to the growing body of scientific thought and knowledge in organic chemistry.

“I really enjoyed just being in the lab and making a contribution to science, however small it may be,” said Schroll, who honed her computer science skills through data analysis and gained numerous new research skills and chemistry knowledge, as well. “I learned a lot of terminology that will be used in future classes, and I've gotten an invaluable peek into the research process. I count myself very fortunate that I was able to do this internship.”

Schroll recommends the program whole-heartedly for its scientific value, but its networking potential isn’t lost on her, either.

“I have a real heart for travel and experiencing different cultures, and at ORNL I had the opportunity to meet people from other countries. A visiting researcher from China became a friend of mine, and she was kind enough to teach me a few phrases [in Chinese, a language I’ve always wanted to learn],” she said. “Everyone here is so kind, knowledgeable, and helpful, and it's an experience you don't want to pass up.”