W&J junior wins Society for Applied Spectroscopy undergraduate research award

Created: April 26, 2019
Last Updated: December 17, 2019

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WASHINGTON, PA (April 27, 2019) — Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) junior Aaron Viggiano won the 2019 Society for Applied Spectroscopy’s (SAS) undergraduate research award for his work with W&J Professor of Chemistry Robbie Iuliucci, Ph.D.

Under Dr. Iuliucci’s guidance, Aaron used Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to analyze the crystal structures of erlotinib.  Erlotinib is a drug used in chemotherapy under the trade name Tarceva. To improve the drug, researchers at Marshall University attempted to make five new crystals of erlotinib. Using the technique of NMR, Aaron proved that only one of the five drug formulations were unique from others available in the market. It is too early to tell if this new formulation is better than the current.

“Aaron not only mastered the experiment, he was able to describe the work at a high level,” Dr. Iuliucci said. “It is my understanding that Aaron’s application (for the SAS undergraduate award) had overwhelming support from the committee.”

Aaron sought out potential independent study research projects on W&J’s campus with the encouragement of his academic advisor, Professor of Chemistry Steven Malinak, Ph.D. The chemistry major, who enjoys working as a technology assistant at his alma mater Neshannock High School during the summers, was looking for a research opportunity that would allow him to learn to use new research technology. When he learned Dr. Iuliucci had an interest in this type of research, the two connected and began work together on the 13-week study.

After completing their research, Aaron wrote a report on the theory of the project, what the two did as part of their research, and the technique they used. He presented the research at the 3rd Gateway NMR Conference held at the University of Pittsburgh and the 257th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition held in Orlando, Fla., before submitting his work for the SAS award consideration.

The chance to do this type of research is one that Aaron is grateful to have.

“I don’t think you get these kinds of research opportunities at larger schools. I don’t think they take their research students in the lab and work one-on-one like this,” he said. “I never thought that in a 13 to 14-week period, I would have a full paper ready to present. You’d be amazed at what you find out that you’re able to do just by approaching a professor and talking to them about their field of research.”

As the winner of the SAS Undergraduate Award in Applied Spectroscopy, Aaron will receive $600 and a one-year subscription to the journal Applied Spectroscopy at the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh Awards Night held May 22 at Duquesne University.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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