From intern to author: CS grad’s NSF-funded chemistry research resulted in awards and professional publications

Like many students who wrapped up their degree requirements in Summer 2023, Naimah El-Amin completed her Cincinnati State Associate of Science degree with a summer internship. However, as a result of Naimah’s internship, she’ll become the published first co-author of an article in a scientific journal, and she’ll be a presenter at the American Chemical Society Conference in Spring 2024.

“Overall, this internship was a wonderful experience,” Naimah said. “Working in a professional research environment offered me priceless experiences and skills that I am very grateful for.”

Naimah, who served as Vice President of the Cincinnati State Student Government Association in 2022-23, was one of the 11 students from colleges and university throughout the U.S. selected to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Chemistry Program at the University of Cincinnati, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Naimah said she learned about the program from Eimee Donbar, Humanities & Science Co-op/Internship Coordinator, who encouraged her to apply.

The REU program paired Naimah with a graduate student mentor, Moriah Weese-Myers, working in the Fast Scan Cyclic Voltammetry (FSCV) lab at UC.

The FSCV lab is directed by Dr. Ashley Ross, UC Associate Professor of Chemistry. Lab projects focus on developing methods to examine signaling within and between the brain and the immune system.

Naimah’s research project focused on estradiol, a hormone present in brain tissue in females. Research on how this hormone functions in the brain is expected to lead to greater understanding of factors that relate to the causes of strokes and causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Naimah said the research also paves the way for development of new electrochemical sensors used to detect estradiol in the brain.

Naimah’s day-to-day work in the lab often required wearing a lab coat and gloves. Her tasks sometimes included chemistry-related activities like mixing solutions and using tools like microscopes and syringes, but at other times she analyzed graphs that displayed visual results of lab activities. A big part of her lab work involved using a flow cell machine to run experiments.

“It wasn’t always a strictly science environment,” Naimah added. “We learned how to be working professionals in science fields, but we had fun, too!” She said the interns enjoyed group activities that included bowling, a visit to an escape room, and even some water balloon fights.

A culminating event for the REU interns was a poster session where students presented information about their research projects, similar to presentations that take place at many professional conferences.

Naimah was the winner of the Best Poster Presentation award and also was recognized for Best Poster Layout. “I shared a lot of data on my poster,” she said.

Naimah is continuing her studies in UC’s DAAP (Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning) program, working toward a degree in Industrial Design.

“Industrial Design is a mix of art and science, and that’s something I’m looking for in my future,” Naimah said. She’s interested in “coming up with ideas for improving products,” including possibly working on the design of medical devices.

Naimah doesn’t yet know which scientific journal will be publishing an article about the research she assisted with, but she’s looking forward to revisiting the project in 2024 when the research team shares their findings with others at the American Chemical Society Conference.

“One of the things I learned during the internship is the importance of being prepared for changes to your career plans,” she said. “The REU program was a great opportunity and I’m glad to have been part of it as one part of my career journey.”

(Some reporting contributed by William Johnson, as part of a Humanities & Sciences Summer 2023 Special Project)