USC-Cerritos College Summer Research Internship
Since 2010, several research groups within USC Chemistry have hosted chemistry students from Cerritos College, Norwalk, CA in their labs over the summer months to expose them to the research process (further details and photos can be found here). Following this 8-week, NSF-funded summer program, 92% of participating Cerritos students have since transferred to 4-year colleges and majored in STEM.
To help contribute to and build upon this successful effort, the Inkpen lab has hosted a summer research intern from Cerritos every year since 2021. Interns conduct a mini-project closely mentored by a graduate student, attend all group meetings, and ultimately present their findings at a symposium at the end of the 8 week period.
The Molecular Junction Database (MJD) Project
Powered in large part by undergraduate students from community colleges, in 2020 the Inkpen group began work to establish and maintain the MJD, a free, web-based, publicly accessible search tool containing details relating to every molecular junction that has ever been studied (single-molecule and large area). There is no mechanism to survey this data quickly, making it challenging to keep up with the field and easy to miss important publications. To lower this barrier, we aim to make the MJD searchable by simple string-based queries (author, title, year of publication), in addition to exact and sub-structure searching using 3rd party cheminformatics webtools. This multi-year project requires the identification and indexing of a steadily increasing number of relevant papers, and significant website development for database management and the facilitation of information discovery.
We have made significant progress towards launching the MJD through an extension of USC Chemistry's long-standing collaboration with Cerritos College (above). This new collaboration grew out of a need created by social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, where, in Fall 2020, Cerritos Professor Jeff Bradbury sought to implement a meaningful virtual 2nd year general chemistry lab experience. Together, we developed an online educational plan to train his UG class to mine literature data for the MJD. This plan aimed to advance student knowledge of molecular chemistry, cheminformatics, and the process of scientific publication and research, also exposing students to a range of field-specific topics (STM, self-assembled monolayers) they would not have typically encountered. Access to legal articles for indexing was a potentially serious stumbling block, but after contacting the American Chemical Society (ACS) they generously volunteered to provide free subscription access for their ACS All-Pubs package (including J. Am. Chem. Soc., Nano Lett., J. Phys. Chem.) to the entire Cerritos College community between August 2021-December 2021. Between Fall 2020 and Summer 2021, 104 Cerritos students indexed >1,500 total articles (~5,000 junctions). In tandem, 2 UG students at USC undertook virtual research projects to validate and standardize Cerritos data and build the foundation of a web search interface.
We are continuing work on the MJD Project through a number of different initiatives, and plan a phased launch of a searchable database in the coming years.