As the central science, research in chemistry is foundational to understanding and improving the world in which we live. From diagnosing and treating disease, through solving the world’s energy crisis, to understanding the origins of life itself, chemistry research at Portland State University is focused on both fundamental and practical problems facing our world today. This work is enhanced through strong ties to local and statewide research initiatives and collaborations with other Portland State faculty as well as researchers across the nation and around the globe. The active incorporation of research discoveries into teaching programs and academic and industrial collaborations is a distinctive feature of the Department of Chemistry and provides students with a world-class interdisciplinary education.
While chemistry faculty at Portland State have research programs rooted in the traditional chemistry disciplines (analytical chemistry, biochemistry, and inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry), interdisciplinary research is an integral part of our program. Portland State University faculty pursue research in biophysics, catalysis, chemical biology, chemistry education, molecular imaging, nanotechnology, renewable energy, sensors, synthesis, therapeutics, and environmental, green, materials, and systems chemistry.
View concise list of chemistry faculty with their research interests and emails or browse faculty research lab pages using the links below.
Beyond the Classroom: Undergraduate Research & Experiences
Whether you intend to find employment directly after graduation or continue your education in graduate or professional school, early preparation for a successful STEM career involves building your knowledge, skills, and abilities both in and out of the classroom.
Employers report looking for job candidates with these abilities: critical thinking and problem solving, communication and teamwork, self-assessment and organization, and project management. You can choose extracurricular activities that help you build these skills. Doing well in your coursework is important, but don’t ignore or miss opportunities for other key resume-building activities.
While most people are still working remote due to COVID-19 concerns, undergraduates are typically not allowed in research labs on campus. Some labs may still be accepting people interested in doing remote activities. As we move towards more in person activities in Fall, labs will be looking for new undergraduate to join their lab. Your initial experience will likely still center around literature review and other work that can be done remotely, but we are hopeful in-the-lab experiences will recommence in Fall 2021.
Participating in undergraduate research is an excellent way to do this while also learning science and developing technical expertise. Both employers and graduate/professional schools prefer (or require) applicants to have research or other direct experience in addition to their bachelor’s degrees.
As a PSU Chemistry major, you have a wealth of opportunities to become involved in cutting-edge scientific research both on and off campus. Just a few recommendations for where to find research and other experiences:
- PSU Chemistry faculty: In addition to teaching, the majority of your science professors maintain independent research programs and involve undergraduates in their research laboratories. Contact them directly about volunteering (see example cold email below).
- Please note that anyone working in a chemistry research lab is required to complete safety training within 6 weeks of beginning work and on an annual basis. Prior to completing the training, students and volunteers will work under close supervision. Safety training sessions are offered monthly. New students and volunteers are asked to please complete the Safety Training form to sign-up for and receive information about the trainings. Session dates are listed on the form. Anyone volunteering in a chemistry research lab is also required to complete a Volunteer-Affiliated Service Form.
- Other PSU STEM faculty: Modern science tends to be extremely integrative, involving approaches and techniques from different disciplines, so don’t ignore professors outside your major. For instance, many biologists, physicists, engineers, mathematicians, psychologists, and social scientists conduct research on biological problems and/or issues related to human health. Contact them directly.
- OHSU: The main campus of Oregon Health and Science University is located on Marquam Hill just south of PSU. PSU also shares the new Robertson Life Sciences Building (RLSB) with OHSU. Both locations house laboratories of OHSU researchers studying a wide variety of questions related to human healthcare and disease etiology and prevention. Many PSU Chemistry students have contributed to this research through volunteer or paid positions. Don't be afraid to contact them directly! (See below) or apply for one or more of their many formal summer internships for undergraduates:
- Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE)
- Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction (CMOP)
- Institute of Occupational Health Sciences
- CURE Program - for minorities
- Doernbecher Children's Hospital
- Equity Summer Research Program – for minorities
- Knight Cancer Center
- Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC)
- Portland VA Medical Center – for US veterans
- Vollum Institute/OHSU Neuroscience - for minorities
- Legacy Research Institute: Located in northeast Portland, researchers at LRI work to develop advanced health care treatments, which can be quickly applied to the benefit of patients. Contact their faculty directly or apply for a formal summer internship for undergraduates.
- NSF REU Programs: search the list of sites (near and far) where you can participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) project.
While it may be intimidating, a great way to find research positions is through cold emails to professionals working in research areas that interest you. An example of such an email:
Dear Dr. Viking,
Hello. I am a Chemistry major who is interested in pursuing undergraduate research in your laboratory. I am particularly interested in your group’s research on cancer. This is to ask whether your lab has need for a volunteer worker at this time. I am reliable, punctual, and motivated. I could be available between 10 to 15 hours per week.
I would welcome the opportunity to assist with your research and look forward to hearing from you. If you can be available for a few minutes next week, I would love to introduce myself in person. Please find my resume attached (optional). Thank you very much for your time.
Many local agencies and organizations will accept undergraduate volunteers. Check the opportunities with Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), OHSU or the Oregon Board of Pharmacy. For more opportunities see a Chemistry adviser.
In addition to those listed above, many local agencies and organizations offer formal internships. Find out more information on seeking out these experiences here. We especially recommend internships offered by the OMSI: great for any Chemistry student, especially those interested in pursuing graduate study and careers in public science education, STEM education policy and research, and scientific journalism.
There are many of ways of gaining resume-building leadership experience during your degree program. In addition to those discussed above, just a few examples include:
- Becoming a Classroom Assistant, Learning Assistant, Workshop Leader for General or Organic Chemistry (you need not be a Chemistry major),
- Becoming a Peer Mentor for our University Studies courses, an Orientation Leader, or a Student Ambassador. Find other on-campus leadership opportunities.
- Tutoring for Chemistry or other STEM course.
- Joining a campus student organization (and perhaps running for an officer position). Use this handy search tool to find groups of interest such as the Portland Pre-health Society (PPS) or the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS). (Becoming a member of one of these groups is also a great way to meet friends and find a community or support.)
- Apply for scholarships!
- Join a professional society such as the American Chemical Society (ACS). They have divisional travel awards for undergraduate students to travel to National ACS meetings to present research, and also separate divisional awards for graduate student travel. Sigma Xi a Scientific Research Society whose local Columbia-Willamette chapter hosts many lectures and an annual student research symposium on campus.
- Learn a foreign language. This may be especially beneficial for students considering working abroad in research or healthcare, or in international business careers.
- The PSU Career Center can provide more information on internships, writing resumes, and other topics in professional development and career exploration.
Chemistry research at Portland State is supported by major grants fromThe Portland State University research blog provides a place for faculty and students to highlight their research, scholarly, and creative activities.
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