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Real-world research born out of internship

Cadets Spring Magazine 2018
By Ashley Wiehe
Many may think that internships are just running errands and getting coffee, but for senior Ryan Koenig it has been an experience of exploration. 

Koenig has been interning with Steven Stevenson, an associate professor of chemistry at IPFW, for more than six months. During that time, they have been doing real, hands-on research side by side. 

“My goal is to provide Ryan with a great and realistic intern experience,” Stevenson said. “I want him to experience, from start to finish, the joy of pursuing a scientific project. I want him to see the ups and downs of research in a real-life environment.”

Over the course of their research, they aimed to isolate the carbon-based C60 fullerene for study. Koenig’s initial project was to develop a chemical-based separation method to purify C60 molecules from an extract solution containing more than 50 different kinds of compounds. In the process of that research, they also found a new pathway to isolate the C90 and C100 molecules — a very unique find indeed.

“The current method of isolating different types of fullerenes is very slow and tedious so my goal is to develop a process that speeds it up significantly,” Koenig said. A fullerene is a unique type of molecule made entirely of carbon. “If successful, research into at least C60 fullerenes will be made much easier.” 

All in all, they hope to improve research methods that use these types carbon molecules for scientists around the globe. 

The internship came about through Kyle Jane, a chemistry teacher at Concordia. He heard about the high school internship program that IPFW offers and immediately thought of Koenig. 

“Ryan took AP chemistry and thrived in the rigorous, lab-based setting of the course,” Jane said. “His genuine curiosity and God-given ability to analyze and conceptualize information led me to think he would do well in an internship.” 

The internship, which started out as a fall semester project, was extended because of Koenig’s skill and the excitement of the research that was being accomplished. However, the research has not by any means been perfect, but as Stevenson explains, that’s the true experience of a researcher. 

“It is an internship so they should experience the life of a professor, the life of a researcher and see the ups and the downs,” he said. “We don’t know how much of each ingredient to add. He gets to experience it firsthand.” 

For Koenig, this is the perfect experience to lead him into college and a future career. He even had the opportunity to present his research this spring at the Undergraduate Research Conference at Butler University.

“This internship is basically what I want to do throughout college and my career,” said Koenig, who plans to attend Purdue University next year and study chemistry. “Many science majors work in undergraduate research labs so this fits nicely into my plans for college.”