UVA STEM students highlight research endeavors, introduce organic chemistry


Imani Saya

(Left to right) UVA students Merly Konathapally,, Sadeechya Gurung, Mehron Kouhestani, and JP Le start their presentation in the auditorium on Wednesday, May 15.

For May’s MSA lecture, University of Virginia students JP Le, Merly Konathapally, Mehron Kouhestani, and Sadeechya Gurung discussed introductory organic chemistry basics and STEM field exploration to students on Wed., May 15, in the auditorium. 

The presenters started out with the foundations of organic chemistry ranging from the importance of nomenclature, skeletal structures, electron diagrams, and stereochemistry, the study of how atoms actually look in space.

Class of 2016 alumni Mehron Kouhestani originally took teacher Babette Shoemaker’s organic chemistry class. He fondly recalled how much learning the foundation before college helped him get ahead in class and ease into his college curriculum.

“With her class, I learned all the nomenclature and stereochemistry, and so in the first few months of organic chemistry [in college], I already knew all the material and I was able to go on further and excel in my class because I had such a big background,” said Kouhestani.

The students did two demos. The first involved the creation of a chemiluminescence process of Luminol, a chemical added with other substances that glow with a bright, blue pigment. The second involved mixing two substances in order to form the stable polymer Nylon 6,6, yielding a never-ending thread.

The presenters used concepts familiar to the audience, like resonance and double bonds, to further explore the material presented and keep them engaged.

“We just tried to pick topics from our research that were at least name recognizable and go a little bit more into detail on them, and make it more relatable,” said a class of 2016 alum Merly Konathapally.

Each of the presenters shared their individual research endeavors that they are studying and conducting currently.

“I just really wanted to tell them the kinds of tools that we have at our disposal,” said Le.

As students majoring in chemistry with a specialization in biochemistry, they shared the uniqueness of being the STEM field, its ups and downs, as well as the heavy significance of continuous exploration and the relevance of research.

“Being a STEM major really changes who you are, how you think. It opens up my eyes to what life is really like and how it could be understood,” said Sadeechya Gurung. “You really get an understanding of these real-world applications that can help people.”

Organic chemistry teacher Babette Shoemaker spoke highly of the students’ delivery of material.

“I think they did a really great job breaking [the material]  down into things the students could grasp. Even the freshmen, and the little bit of the organic [material] that they have, were picking up on what they were talking about,” said Shoemaker.