Nicholas Bencivenga ’10
Merrimack County, N.H.
If the research Nick Bencivenga is pursuing pans out, people working to protect our streams, ponds, and drinking water supplies may one day have a faster, more accurate tool for detecting even the tiniest traces of toxic pollutants.
Bencivenga, a senior majoring in chemistry, is investigating a new way of testing water for dissolved metals, such as copper and lead, which are linked to cancer and other diseases.
“Copper is very toxic in water, even in trace amounts,” says Bencivenga, who has been awarded several grants from the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. “So, if we can get an accurate picture of what’s in the water, that’s really valuable information…And the beauty of this type of test is that the results are instantaneous.”
Bencivenga, who mentors other undergraduates in chemistry, presented a poster on his findings at the UNH Undergraduate Research Conference in April. With the help of faculty mentors in the chemistry department, he focused on materials that can pick up metal ions, giving off a type of light that can be detected instantly with a special sensing instrument.
Bencivenga says the project taught him priceless lessons about the science of inquiry, and discovery.
“It’s much harder to see the bigger picture until you do your own research, and ask your own questions,” Bencivenga says. “And the thing I find most appealing about this is that you’re learning to think, how to ask good questions, and how to really see patterns.”
He says he got hooked on chemistry as a freshman, when he took a general chemistry course with UNH Professor Roy Planalp. Bencivenga has worked with Planalp ever since, mostly recently on a collaboration with Rudi Seitz, an analytical chemist at UNH.
“Over the years I’ve worked with him, Professor Planalp has shown me invaluable tools, techniques, and methodologies to be successful in the scientific inquiry process,” Bencivenga says.
Bencivenga recently earned a coveted undergraduate research internship for the summer with Merck & Co., a global, research-driven pharmaceutical developer.
“I chose UNH simply because it felt right to me. The academic rigor here is tremendous and has made me feel truly prepared for whatever is thrown at me,” says Bencivenga. “People need to know that UNH is really a gem.”