Computational chemistry conference at Furman spurs innovation, academic diversity

The annual national MERCURY conference has been taking place on college campuses around the country, and Furman has hosted the meeting since 2017.

More than 100 chemists from across the nation will convene in Greenville when Furman University hosts the 18th annual MERCURY Conference for Undergraduate Computational Chemistry July 15-19.

Founded in 2001, Molecular Education and Research Consortium in Undergraduate Computational Chemistry (MERCURY) is a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded organization comprised of 29 computational chemistry faculty from 25 primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States.

Furman Provost and Chemistry Professor George Shields is the founder of MERCURY.

MERCURY faculty, undergraduates and others have gathered each year beginning in 2002 to exchange ideas in computational chemistry and increase the visibility of their work. Since the inception of MERCURY, a commitment to bolstering diversity and inclusion in the academic community has been a driving principle.

Of the 29 MERCURY members, 14 are female and nine are faculty of color. From 2001, when the first NSF-Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) grant was funded, until summer 2018, MERCURY faculty have worked with 843 students on research projects. Seventy-five percent of MERCURY’s undergraduate research students have been female or male students of color, and about half of the graduates go on to secure advanced degrees in STEM fields.

The MERCURY faculty peer review publication rate is 1.7 papers per faculty member each year—3.4 times the rate of physical science faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions. Since MERCURY’s founding, investigators have published more than 400 papers in journals such as Science, Nature, Angewandte Chemie-International Edition, JACS, and PNAS.

The annual national conference for MERCURY has been taking place on college campuses around the country since 2002, with Furman hosting the meeting as of 2017. The event includes research presentations, poster sessions, a pre-conference workshop and social events.

The keynote speakers are:

• Mel Landon, Schrodinger
• Anne McCoy, University of Washington
• Frank Pickard, Pfizer
• Adrian Roitberg, University of Florida
• Sapna Sarupria, Clemson University
• Nick Mayhall, Virginia Tech

“The MERCURY consortium has been an outstanding program that has contributed greatly to the development of scientifically trained undergraduates, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion,” said MERCURY founder and Furman Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost George Shields. “Furman makes an excellent host for the conference since it has one of the strongest programs in the physical sciences of any liberal arts school in the country.”

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