Nicole DeBuono ’20 uses the scanning electron microscope to view nanostructure samples.

As a first-year student applying for a summer science research spot, Nicole DeBuono ’20 told herself not to be surprised if the position went to a more senior student. But it didn’t, and she got the opportunity she was after — working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Farah Dawood on a highly interdisciplinary project in chemistry, materials science and nanoscience.

“This work lies in the sweet spot between chemistry and physics, and that's what I would like to consider my niche. I can see myself having a career in this area,” DeBuono says.

She and Dawood are working to develop more efficient technology for sensors that detect tiny amounts of chemicals. “To make our sensors, we use what’s called a galvanic displacement reaction,” DeBuono explains.

about Nicole debuono '20

Potential major: Chemical Physics, Chemistry or Physics

Hometown: New Hartford, N.Y.

High School: New Hartford Senior High School

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During the summer, they used copper foil and silver nitrate to create a chemical reaction that produced highly branched, nanostructured, dendrite formations, which are critical to sensor efficiency. DeBuono synthesized dendrites, tested them to see which ones produced the best signal, then tweaked the synthetic conditions to try to improve the results. “We were trying to find the optimal conditions to grow these dendrites,” she says.

When the summer work began, Dawood worked closely with DeBuono as she learned the ropes. But as the days went on, DeBuono had more autonomy, and there came a point, the standout moment of the summer, when she moved beyond just following directions to coming up with ideas on what to try next. “I found that I took ownership of it — that this is my work now,” DeBuono says.

She loved the experience and plans to continue it with Dawood next summer, building on what she’s already accomplished. “It’s exciting. I have an idea of where I’m going and what track I’m going on with this,” DeBuono says.

As for her academic track, DeBuono is exploring her options for pursuing her two favorite subjects. She may go for a chemical physics major or something else. “I love both chemistry and physics, and I wouldn’t want to do one without the other. Personally, I really like the inorganic side of chemistry,” she says.

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