Have you wanted to get into chemistry research, but didn’t know where to begin? Read this article to learn more on how you can start your own research project.
What Makes a Good Research Idea?
Before starting, having a good research idea will provide a firm foundation for your work. Before you begin, make sure to confirm if your research topic is:
What area are you addressing in your research project, and does it fill in some gap of knowledge? If your research has been done before or has been already thoroughly examined, then it’s unlikely your idea will be as compelling as an original paper that leaves room for future questions and innovations.
Do you find the topic interesting? If you have passion in your work, you will be excited and engaged in your work, which others in the industry will definitely pick up on. If you don’t find your research interesting, it’s better to brainstorm which areas you’d be more passionate about.
Is the research doable? Make sure to take a deep look into your capabilities and resources, and use what’s available to you in order to pursue your research. While there are many projects that can be done at home or through the computer, you can reach out to a local college or laboratory if you’d like to get a more professional experience.
Okay, I Have a Research Idea, What’s Next?
Once you’ve picked a research idea, it may seem daunting on what to do next. You should develop a detailed research plan and reach out to teachers, professors, and scientists who can help you. Having a mentor can provide helpful comments on your research idea and your next steps.
For example, a mentored program like the Lumiere Research Scholar Program can be a great opportunity to experience the full research cycle. Those who are selected for the Lumiere Research Scholar Program are given 1-1 mentorship with top PhDs. Below, we share some of the chemistry research ideas that have been proposed by our research mentors.
Chemistry Research Ideas for High School Students
Research Category #1: Energy and Climate Change
Climate change has been one of the widely talked about topics in public discourse. With more media and political attention on this issue than ever before, it’s no wonder that there are many opportunities to explore how chemistry can be applied to help the planet. Therefore, researching in this field will yield potential benefits for society and beyond, making applications of this research especially compelling for passionate high school students.
1. Use green chemistry as a tool to achieve sustainability targets in the fields of energy, water remediation, agriculture or sensing.
2. Find novel chemicals that can be used to shape the next generation of batteries, green fuels, and energy harvesting.
3. Research materials can be developed to improve CO2 capture and Utilization (CCU).
4. Analyze different energy storage options currently available, and compare and contrast technologies' chemistries, performance, lifetime, cost, geographic and resource constraints, and more.
5. Learn the newest and most promising technologies in sustainability science, with a focus on how startups and the private sector are critical to our society's transition to a green future and how products are commercialized from lab to market.
Suggested by Lumiere PhD mentors at Harvard University, University of California, Berkeley, Yale University, and University of Cambridge.
Research Category #2: Computation and Machine Learning
Data processing is becoming increasingly efficient, and especially in the advent of artificial intelligence systems, scientists are interested in learning how to apply new technologies to their line of work. If you’re looking for knowledge within computer science or computer engineering, these topics may stand out to you.
6. Apply machine learning for chemical challenges, such as how AI can bring benefits into the area of chemistry and how big data can be processed.
7. Merge chemistry with computational tools to design molecules and predict their properties.
8. Study molecular and biological systems via computational modeling, including finding the advantages and disadvantages of different techniques and types of computational analysis.
9. Implement machine learning for reaction optimization, process chemistry, reaction kinetics, mixing, scale-up and safety.
Suggested by Lumiere PhD mentors at Duke University, University of Cambridge, and University of Leeds.
Research Category #3: Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials
The benefits of nanotechnology are clear – more developments in this field can lead to lower costs and stronger properties of materials. The area of technology is incredibly new, so if you want to get involved in a burgeoning research field, see if the following ideas interest you.
10. Conduct a general study on the focus on nanomaterials and their applications.
11. Understand how material nano-structure can create specific properties and take advantage of that "structure-property" understanding to engineer new materials.
12. Be exposed to the frontiers of material science and the host of meta-stable man-made materials with exotic properties.
Suggested by Lumiere PhD mentors at Technical University of Munich and Georgia Institute of Technology.
Research Category #4: Chemical Reactions
One of the most major fundamental aspects of chemistry is understanding how different elements and molecules interact to create new products. Understanding more about how these reactions take place and which interactions are favored can yield better ideas on how to utilize them. If you’d like to better your chemistry skills, take a look at these topics:
13. Investigate how molecules are made in nature,such as what reactions are performed by enzymes to make natural products.
14. Study a reaction that changes color as it proceeds using your phone to measure the RGB-code evolution.
15. Delve into the synthesis of chemicals within organic chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry.
16. Learn how to design, synthesize, and use molecular boxes for separating targeted compounds.
Suggested by Lumiere PhD mentors at Duke University and University of Cambridge.
Research Category #5: Drug Discovery
Unsurprisingly, pharmaceuticals heavily utilizes the concepts of chemistry to create life saving drugs and treatments for people worldwide. If you’re interested in learning how chemical reactions can treat diseases within the human body, see below for more information.
17. Communicate the causes of drug resistance in tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or another infectious disease
18. Explore the connections between drug discovery, pharmaceutical development, flow chemistry, organic synthesis, electrochemistry, photochemistry, and biochemical and enzymatic synthesis.
19. Conduct a detailed research on proteins, their role in human disease, and how understanding protein structure can inform drug discovery.
20. Observe the characteristics of good drug candidates and the biological experiments performed to prove clinical viability.
21. Determine the role small molecules play in imaging, labeling, target identification, inhibiting native protein functions and facilitating foreign ones, especially in new techniques being used to understand disease pathways.
Suggested by Lumiere PhD mentors at Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Leeds, Cornell University, and Johns Hopkins University.
Research Category #6: Life Sciences
Beyond the scope of drug discovery, how does chemistry support life itself? Biochemistry is an intriguing field that aims to answer how biological processes take place, and more discoveries are taking place everyday on the mystery of life. If you’d like to learn how biology and chemistry work in tandem, these research topics may be the right fit for you.
22. Develop theory of chemical kinetics and how they are used to study reactions that are critically important for biology to maintain life.
23. Learn the biological processes of living cells such as human cells, yeast, bacteria, and such.
24. Utilize different techniques to determine structures of biomolecules present in humans.
25. Employ molecular modeling and simulation techniques to tackle problems that involve the function or interactions of a protein.
Suggested by Lumiere PhD mentors at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Duke University, University of Cambridge, and University of Oxford.
This article provides only a small glimpse into the endless possibilities of chemistry research, but hopefully, the variety of different fields that chemistry is involved in piqued your interest; whether you’d like to learn more about climate change, computers, or biology, there is definitely an applicable chemistry research project that you can do.
If you are passionate about chemistry and hope to do advanced research under expert mentorship, consider applying to the Lumiere Scholar Program. You can find the application form here.
Lydia is currently a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Molecular and Cellular Biology. During high school, she pursued engineering activities like attending the Governor's School of Engineering and Technology. In her spare time, she likes to create digital art while listening to music.