Nicholas Boyer was born in Australia and also lived in England and Florida before settling in NC about 9 years ago. With living in all of those places, he fondly notes that he has gotten to see a lot of interesting things, including historical sites such as castles in England. He loves living in the mountains where he enjoys camping, hiking, and exploring nature. Nicholas also enjoys playing soccer. He is a recent graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) and is living in Horseshoe, NC. At NCSSM he founded a geology club which he was able to run virtually during the COVID-19 shutdown. The club discussed various topics ranging from rocks & minerals, looking at different crystals and how the atoms are arranged and calculating density.
His father worked as an aerospace engineer, which he feels definitely influenced his interest in STEM, but he also recalls always liking science because it helped him to understand how things work. He became interested in Chemistry during his first high school Chemistry class, truly enjoying the variety of experiences he participated in during class. He also took a research class where he had his instructor/mentor help him with his research. He describes his mentor as someone who is genuinely passionate about helping students with their research. The first project students do in the class is a mini research project where they do reading and research on a topic that the instructor selects. After this project, students then have the ability to read and understand research papers to help identify an area of interest. Through this research process, Nicholas developed an interest in energy. Although Nicholas received the help of his mentor to guide him and provide computational resources to conduct research, he had to learn and apply the software to his research on his own. While he is interested in computer science he feels that it will be more likely a tool to support his chemistry research, than the focus of his work.
In thinking about his experience presenting research at science and engineering fairs, Nicholas finds the sharing of his research to be a lot of fun. He enjoys receiving feedback from judges and learning how he might improve his research. He also appreciates getting to see all of the other project ideas and learning about other research opportunities. Beyond fairs he has also engaged in other research sharing events like SNCURCS (pronounced “Snickers” by participants). The diversity of experiences challenged him to present his research in a variety of ways and allowed him to get many perspectives through feedback. He feels that this prepared him well noting that, “If someone just asked me about my research I would have a lot of options about how I could present my research. “
This year Nicholas’ project, The Computational and Experimental Study of Cellulose in Ionic Liquids and Water for Finding an Optimal Solvent for Biofuel Production, was promoted to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). His research was awarded the third Award of $1,000 in the category of ENERGY: SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS AND DESIGN and the Chief of Naval Research Scholarship Award of $15,000.
Nicholas describes his research as focused on solvents for breaking down cellulose, specifically using ionic liquids. His research used 4 ionics liquids consisting of 2 different cations: 1-Butyl-3-methylimidazolium [BMIM] and 1-Ethyl-3-methylimidazolium [EMIM] and 2 different anions: acetate (OAc) and chloride (Cl). He found insights into how cellulose and ionic liquids interact which can be used for further computational research using similar methods. He also found that [BMIM]Cl was the best ionic liquid computationally because of its greater freedom of movement and more favorable interactions with cellulose which was supported by experimental results. He believes that there are the benefits of reduced carbon dioxide emissions and a renewable source of fuel in the optimization of biofuel production of ethanol.
While Regeneron ISEF was virtual, Nicholas was able to engage in many opportunities including the opening ceremony, judging, and the awards ceremony. He liked that the judging was completed prior to the rest of the events as he felt able to participate without the worry. He did feel a bit disconnected with the event being virtual, but described his awards ceremony as an experience all of its own stating, “When your name is called, you do get your own experience. My parents were excited and enthusiastic.”
He recalls and appreciates the variety of judging experiences at the regional, state, and international fair. He saw value in each judge having their own backgrounds, usually asking questions based on their personal expertise and experience. He did feel that as he reached the higher levels, the questions became more in depth and detailed. Overall he feels that it was helpful to have all of the different judging experiences.
As a recent high school graduate, Nicholas is planning to attend UNC-Chapel Hill this fall. He will pursue a major in Chemistry and include some Computer Science and Applied Physical Sciences in his course work. He is planning to pursue a PhD, possibly in the field of Chemistry, but has not ruled out Materials Science. He really enjoys chemistry research, but also enjoys computational modeling. As he considers his long range path he notes that some interesting avenues would include going back into academia and doing research, but also teaching others. Ultimately, regardless of what pathway he takes, he strives to work on a new real world problem or to work with something that already exists and use science as an integral part of his work.
When we asked Nicholas to provide one piece of advice for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering he said, “If you are interested in science and engineering you have to do well in all subjects including technology, engineering, english, and other humanities courses. They all work together because you will have to read research, argue with evidence in research, and think critically. Get involved in clubs and things you are interested in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to reach out to figure out what you are interested in. As you grow your skills, you can choose the field you think you like to most to focus on, but don’t abandon the other interests. Pursue opportunities outside of school too in order to learn about what you are passionate about.”