Student awarded prestigious grant for undergraduate research

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    Corbin Ester in Appalachian's chemistry lab. (Photo: Marie Freeman)

Before Corbin Ester officially enrolled at Appalachian State University, he knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish during his college career.

The chemistry major from Wilkesboro had goals to develop his skills as a researcher, become involved in clinical opportunities, and do whatever was necessary to prepare for applying to a M.D./Ph.D. program.

"I came to Appalachian hoping that I could not only reach my goal, but that I could leave a mark, and be an inspiration to other students who wanted to pursue a similar career path as myself," said Ester.

A sophomore, Ester recently received a George T. Barthalmus Undergraduate Research Grant for 2012-13 for his work with a faculty-mentored research project related to clean energy. He is the first Appalachian student to receive the grant, which is presented by the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium (SNCURCS) to sophomores engaging in research.

This competitive, undergraduate research grant was established in recognition of the late Dr. George Barthalmus, a former N.C. State University professor.

Barthalmus was a founding member of the Office of Student Research Advisory Board at Appalachian and founder of SNCURCS. He was an advocate for early student involvement in the research process and had a passion for encouraging undergraduates to pursue their interests through the process of research in their respective fields.

"Receiving the grant has boosted my confidence in my capability as a future scientist, and strengthened my desire to seek a life dedicated to research," said Ester.

Ester is working with Dr. Dale Wheeler and others in the Department of Chemistry to make new modified catalysts for hydrogen production. They are improving the catalysts' ability to split water into hydrogen and oxygen to create a clean energy alternative.

"Corbin is a highly motivated student who is raising the bar for students at Appalachian," said Wheeler. "He keeps me on my toes and pushes me to be better."

Ester will present the results of his findings at the 2013 SNCURCS to be held at UNC Charlotte in November. He also plans to attend the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in April and the fall 2013 American Chemical Society's National Meeting in Indianapolis.

Last summer he added to his list of accomplishments by being the only freshman selected to participate in a 10-week biochemistry program held at the University of Kentucky.

"This program really taught me what life as a scientist would be like, not only through my own experience, but by learning from all of the researchers around me," said Ester.

Upon graduating from Appalachian, Ester aspires to become both a physician and a scientist. He wants to pursue either a joint M.D./Ph.D. degree or enter a medical scientist training program (MSTP)—a highly competitive program that helps physician scientists turn laboratory discoveries into effective treatments for patients.

Corbin is a Chancellor's Scholar, a member of the Honors College and vice president of the Appalachian Honors Association (AHA). His dream job is to work with and help children with cancer.

"I do the things I do because I want to be a medical scientist. I think the way that I have gone about them, and the success that I have had, are in tribute to the truly amazing support system I have at this university," said Ester. "This experience is one that I am dearly thankful for, and wouldn't trade for anything in the world."