Undergraduate Research

A poster session for Chem 346 students' independent research projectsWhat is research?

Scientific research usually involves a question, an investigation of that question, and finally, communication of the discovery. Most often, scientific investigations involve both literature searches and planned experiments.

In the Department of Chemistry, undergraduate research is defined as self-directed work under the supervision and guidance of a mentor/adviser — usually a graduate student, postdoc, or professor. Students normally participate in ongoing research projects where they get the chance to investigate phenomena of interest to them and the lab that they are working in. At UW-Madison, we have researchers involved in all the core areas of chemistry; analytical, inorganic, physical, theoretical, chemical education, materials, chemical biology, and organic chemistry. Many of the researchers, however, are interdisciplinary and often cross the boundaries between fields and even disciplines, such as medicine, biology, materials, engineering, and physics.  

When doing research, you will get the chance to work with and design instruments that you were only able to talk about in class, get to do intricate syntheses of molecules that have never been developed before, and/or get to discover phenomenon in the environment by using the latest software to take measurements that have never previously been recorded. Overall, you will learn how to read pertinent literature, new techniques and chemical concepts, and become an expert at a specific type of chemistry within a unique and close-knit lab group.

Often, these research experiences culminate in a written or oral presentation that allows the student to communicate the results with the greater scientific community. The department organizes an undergraduate poster session every spring where students involved in undergraduate research showcase their results. Students’ findings may also be presented at campus-wide undergraduate symposia, at regional and scientific meetings, such as American Chemical Society meetings, or may be incorporated into papers submitted for publication.

Why do research?

Our faculty believe research is a vital component in the education of a chemist. In recent years, more than 80 percent of chemistry majors have become involved in research. Participation in undergraduate research can benefit students not only educationally, but also professionally and personally. Thus, undergraduates are highly encouraged to get involved in our diverse and highly regarded research community.

Students who become involved in research:

  • Apply concepts learned in coursework to real life situations;
  • Learn to read and effectively search scientific literature;
  • Develop critical, analytical, and independent thinking skills;
  • Increase their scientific confidence;
  • Discover personal interests;
  • Learn about current issues, methods, and leaders in the field;
  • Work closely with a faculty mentor;
  • Explore and prepare for future careers;
  • Develop marketable skills;
  • Enhance professional communication skills;
  • Experience the excitement of discovery;
  • Prepare for graduate or professional programs;
  • Develop networking relationships with students, professors, and other scientific professionals within your research group, department, campus, country, and even around the world;
  • Sometimes get paid or receive scholarships/fellowships/awards;
  • Fulfill graduation requirements.

Learn how to get started in undergraduate chemistry research.