Southern Illinois University



Nate Colley picture


March 14, 2016

Research: It’s the lifeblood of science. And Nate Colley knew that it would be vital to gain that experience as a college student.

That’s a major reason the Staunton native turned to SIU when he chose a university.

“I chose SIU because the College of Science here offers an affordable, nationally competitive program with many opportunities for undergraduate research,” said Colley, the son of Lonnie and Connie Colley.

Colley, a senior in chemistry, has thrown himself into life as an undergraduate student at SIU, raking in awards and holding leadership positions among his peers.

He’s worked as a research assistant for Lichang Wang, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, performing theoretical calculations of organic molecules using specialized software and constructing and testing dye-sensitized solar cells using Illinois coal as samples.

Colley, who also is earning his minor in mathematics, also held officer positions in the university’s student chapter of the American Chemical Society, serving as vice-president and treasurer, among other posts. He also conducted public science demonstrations with the group, volunteered as a judge for the state and regional science fairs held at SIU, and conducted other community service.

He served as a Saluki Ambassador, who are current students dedicated to sharing experiences and perspectives on SIU with prospective students and others. He also is a member of the University Honors Program.

And for his senior year, he traded a seat in the lecture hall for lectern at its head, becoming a teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry where he taught a section of general chemistry laboratory for science majors and proctored exams as needed.

The College of Science has rewarded Colley’s hard work, nominating him as its Lincoln Laureate candidate in 2015. He’s also been named a Society of Chemical Industry Scholar and garnered an honorable mention as a Goldwater Scholar in 2015, as well.

Colley praised the college’s Living and Learning Community concept, which offers students the chance to live with other students who share the same major or majors within the same college, or with whom they have something in common.

“I loved living in the science Living and Learning Community,” Colley said. “I met many friends and had many great experiences while living in Felts Hall. I also really enjoyed tailgating and attending football with friends.”

His marks in class have landed him on the dean’s list every semester since January 2013. He’s also earned multiple awards and scholarships, including a Research Enriched Academic Challenge (REACH) award, two Saluki Scholar Research Opportunity awards and the Albert and Leyla Somit University Honors Scholarship, among many others.

An engineering internship at Carus Corp. in La Salle gave Colley valuable real-world experience. During the internship last year, Colle researched and mass produced experimental products for water purification and used advanced instrumentation to characterize water samples.

The year before that found Colley working as a research assistant in an organic chemistry laboratory at the University of Vermont, where he synthesized large circulene family molecules for use in organic electronics and used advanced instrumentation to characterize the purified compounds. To get that position, Colley took advantage of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at SIU, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

He also authored or co-authored three scientific articles during his undergraduate career.

Through it all, Colley said learning to become a researcher is the thing that defines his experience at SIU as life-changing, and one that has inspired his post-graduate dreams.

“The thing I enjoyed most about being a science student at SIU was that I was able to do undergraduate research from the beginning,” Colley said. “Research sparked my interest in chemistry and allowed me to grow as a student outside the classroom. My undergraduate research experiences have also encouraged me to pursue a career in research.”

As graduation approaches, Colley said he wants to go on to earn a doctorate in chemistry or materials science and engineering. Eventually, he plans to pursue a career industrial chemical research, focusing on improving thin-film solar cells. 

Wang said Colley started working in his research group during his first semester at SIU and has been in the group ever since. Specifically, Colley carries out calculations to predict suitable materials that can convert solar energy to electricity. Colley also does research aimed at constructing solar cells that use Southern Illinois coal to convert solar energy to electricity.

“Nate has been instrumental in the work of constructing solar cells,” Wang said. “Although he is an undergraduate researcher, he has been considered as a graduate student. Nate works diligently and independently. I will miss him greatly after May when he graduates.”

SIU has done a great job preparing him for a career in chemistry, Colley said.

“Many of my instructors explained complex topics very well and were able to provide additional insight obtained from personal experiences in the field,” he said. “I also had instructors who pushed me to learn topics outside of the textbooks. The hands-on laboratory classes also prepared me a great deal for a career in chemistry.”