COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Presents Unique Opportunity for Professor and Students

September 02, 2020

As governments around the world instituted travel restrictions to help stem the spread of the coronavirus earlier this year, educational institutions were forced to find new ways to continue doing their work. These changes presented new opportunities for a couple of chemistry undergrads who worked under Professor Mark Benvenuto.

 The 23rd International Conference on Multidisciplinary Studies was to have been an in-person conference at the University of Cambridge in England at the end of July. Due to COVID-19 related restrictions on travel and accessibility, the conference was moved online, which provided an opportunity for Benvenuto and his students.

 “Had the pandemic not been going on, I would have probably deleted the email,” Benvenuto said. “I would not have had the money to fly over to England.”

Because it was online, money wasn’t an obstacle, so Detroit Mercy freshmen Megan Karjo and Constantina Sinani, along with Coryn Le, a junior serving as the teaching assistant, prepared an abstract submission in May, The Nexus of Art and Science: Creating Art Medals in the Chemistry Lab, Using Graphite Molds based on work conducted in Benvenuto’s lab. The group was elated to hear in late July the submission had been accepted along with an additional request for a paper to accompany the abstract.

 Their research brings together art, science and engineering in a single experience, demonstrating how graphite blocks can be used as both mold and heat sink for the creation of art medals, using metal alloys.  Some industry experts believe this technique may have been used centuries ago, but was replaced over time by newer practices. Susan Taylor, a retired senior engraver at the Royal Canadian Mint, urged Benvenuto to seek publication to share their technique with others internationally.

 Benvenuto recalls waking up at 4 a.m. to prepare for their Zoom session scheduled at 9:30 a.m. in Cambridge, which is 5:30 in the morning Detroit time. Teams were allotted 12 minutes to present to the review committee and Karjo made quite an impression. “After I made the introduction I let Megan take over and they were so excited see students on the call speaking.” Benvenuto said. Karjo provided the details of the heat sink molding process while Benvenuto handled more control questions such as material acquisition.   

After the session concluded Karjo texted Benvenuto, “That was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in college!” Benvenuto said.

Two weeks after the conference Benvenuto received an email informing the group their paper had been published in one of 10 scientific journals, but had a hard time locating it initially. “I was informed that our paper would be published in the European Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies,” Benvenuto said. “I was shocked to see where it ultimately landed”.

 Their research was published in the European Journal of Medicine and Natural Sciences May-August 2020 Volume 4, Issue 2.

 Benvenuto still marvels at the experience his students had.

“These were two freshmen in a teaching lab along with a rising junior Coryn Le, serving as the TA,” he said. “We got three of these undergrads to do this and that’s just blowing me away.”