Nanoscience – Innovation Grant

Overcoming Barriers to Undergraduate Research

Faculty Lead: Eric Josephs

 The Department of Nanoscience in UNCG’s Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering is an interdisciplinary physical sciences graduate-level program which offers students the opportunity to do in depth research using high-tech equipment available at their labs located at the Gateway South campus, a few miles east of UNCG’s main campus. These facilities are an interdisciplinary research space which can offer students a unique academic experience in addition to what is available on campus. While offering only graduate degrees, the Department of Nanoscience does take on undergraduates as interns and runs programs which allow undergraduates to conduct and assist in research projects. JSNN has run into two key issues in building these academic relationships: finding ways to make undergraduate students aware of the opportunities available to them and reducing the difficulty of transportation between campus and the lab.

Overall, many JSNN faculty see great value in building relationships with undergraduate students and offering them the opportunity to participate in unique academic experiences. Many students demonstrate interest in applying for these research programs, including freshman and students who do not fall within the traditional physical science majors. In order to catch students who are interested in building long-term research projects, even those who are not majoring in physical sciences or those who have not yet declared a major – many faculty in the Department of Nanoscience are looking for ways to make as many students as possible aware of the research opportunities available to them.

Affordable and reliable transportation between campus and the labs at Gateway South is an issue facing both graduate and undergraduate students. Having to conduct research at the lab and ensure their own transportation means that participating in JSNN projects and internships is a greater personal commitment for students than many other on-campus research opportunities. Faculty are concerned that requiring students to facilitate and fund their own transportation with no additional support is creating obstacles that may prevent some students from participating in valuable research experiences. Students who have cars are spending a portion of their research stipend on gas to get back and forth between UNCG’s main campus, the lab, and frequently their part time jobs. Students who do not drive are typically required to rely on Uber or other services to fulfill their transportation needs. Several years ago, there was a municipal bus line which ran between UNCG, North Carolina A&T State University (which also has a department in the JSNN), and the labs at Gateway South, but it has since been suspended. The only current bus routes which connect UNCG and Gateway South can take students over an hour, making it unfeasible due to the typical tight time windows between classes, research time slots, and work.

To provide additional support for students, the Department of Nanoscience used Innovation Grant Funding to provide stipends and supplements for undergraduate research designed to offset the estimated cost of transportation. The goal of this funding is to ensure that more students can take advantage of research opportunities, without enduring unnecessary stress and economic pressures which might hinder their ability to achieve success in their research projects. Participating Nanoscience faculty included Dr. Eric Josephs (assistant professor), Dr. Tetyana Ignatova (assistant professor), Dr. Joseph Starobin (professor), and Hemali Rathnayake (associate professor). During the Spring of 2023 they supervised the research of four students, and in the summer of 2023 they worked with five students, who were conducting research supported by Innovation Grant funding. These students completed research on a wide variety of subjects, including nanomaterials, materials chemistry, biophysical modeling, and 3D printing/advanced manufacturing and bioengineering.

Moving forward, participating faculty at JSNN are looking for additional ways to connect with and support students including engaging with First Year Experience programming and gen ed science courses. As funding allows, they hope to expand opportunities for students into the summer, potentially allowing students with many other commitments to take on research when they are not enrolled in classes. Having used the Innovation Grants to help demonstrate a level of interest among undergraduates at UNCG for research experiences at JSNN, faculty in the Department of Nanoscience are also looking for ways to acquire external funding necessary to take on a greater number of students and create more research opportunities for undergraduates. Additionally, they are discussing creating a shuttle for students running between UNCG’s main campus and the JSNN lab using a bus previously used for Nanoscience outreach programs. As a whole, faculty at JSNN are looking for innovative ways to connect with students and reduce barriers to create as many opportunities as possible for in-depth and impactful research.

Want to Learn More?
Visit the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering’s website or contact Eric Josephs (