Chemistry Research


Undergraduate Research in Chemistry at PLNU


The Undergraduate Research Program in Chemistry at PLNU is designed to prepare students for life. As one of the university's 43 major programs, the Chemistry Department provides its students with the opportunity to participate as partners with their professors in nationally funded and reported research projects.

Point Loma students have the rare opportunity to participate in a sophisticated research program as they are assigned active roles in faculty research projects, sharing in the failures and triumphs of original research. Receiving national attention on research projects, faculty members have made Point Loma known in professional circles as a major center for halogen research. Major research funding agencies have perceived excellence in Point Loma's research program as well.

Summer Research Fellowships

Research projects do not stand still at the end of the regular academic year at PLNU. Faculty must continue their projects despite the flips of the calendar. Students have the opportunity to participate even more closely with research projects during the summer months when they are not also faced with the demands of other classwork. Student fellowship stipends provide for living expenses over the summer months and help alleviate the pressure of salary not earned from summer employment.

Program History

Summer undergraduate research at PLNU is a tradition that goes back forty years to 1965, when Dr. Victor Heasley and three Chemistry students spent their summer studying the interactions of halogens with various alkenes. This effort was continued each summer thereafter, and by 1968, the "first fruits" of their labors had appeared as an article in the Journal of Organic Chemistry. The undergraduate chemistry research program that Dr. Heasley founded now involves four faculty members and about 14 students in full-time research each summer. As of 1999, a total of 164 undergraduates have participated in the chemistry research program, producing data which have so far resulted in over 80 publications in refereed national and international journals. Dr. Heasley and his partner in research since 1972, Dr. Dale Shellhamer, have become known and respected worldwide among halogen chemists for their major contribution to the field.

The Department of Biology initiated its summer research program in 1978, serving a total of 87 undergraduates whose work has so far resulted in 11 journal articles and 62 presentations at science conferences.

The combined Biology-Chemistry Summer Research Program is integrated in several ways designed to foster student interactions. Weekly, lunches are provided on the lawn to allow student/student and faculty/student interactions. Students also share daily refreshment times during breaks and they are housed together with the University providing free rooms.

The main support for the research programs has been a dedicated group of science alumni and friends who have formed the organization known as Research Associates . The University administration and individual grants obtained by faculty have also contributed. During the early years, the program involved just one or two faculty members and four to seven students. Recently, however, support from a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grants has allowed the program to increase in size. In 1998, there were six faculty and 16 students involved in biology research and three faculty and 14 students involved in chemistry research.


Research consists of ten weeks of investigation of individual research projects by students and faculty. Seminars are presented each week where projects are discussed in detail. It is anticipated that each project will become part of a publication in a national or international journal (the Chemistry Department has published over 80 articles since 1965). Social activities are also emphasized; all researchers (from both Biology and Chemistry) meet for lunch each week and once for breakfast and for dinner during the ten-week period.

Preparation for the Future

Since its inception in 1965, 164 students have taken advantage of the Summer Research Program to prepare for their futures. Of these, 53 have gone on to medical schools, including

  •     Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  •     University of Southern California
  •     Loma Linda University
  •     Jefferson Medical School
  •     Loyola University Chicago
  •     UCLA
  •     UC San Diego
  •     Creighton University

Two have gone on to dentistry careers. Fifty-eight have obtained advanced degrees (predominately Ph.D.s) from universities including,

  •     Michigan
  •     Princeton
  •     California Institute of Technology
  •     UC Davis
  •     UC Irvine
  •     UC Riverside
  •     UC San Diego
  •     Oregon State
  •     Texas A&M

Six have obtained M.D./Ph.D. degrees; 14 have established careers in the chemical industry (IBM, Proctor and Gamble, Salk Institute, National Health Labs, and Scripps Institute, to name a few); and 12 are still enrolled at PLNU. The Summer Research Program is instrumental in preparing science students for the research aspects of graduate and medical studies and also increases the likelihood of acceptance into such programs.