MORE CHEMISTRY MAJORS ARE DOING ORIGINAL RESEARCH THAN EVER BEFORE.
On late Friday afternoons, when empty classrooms and an even-quieter-than-usual library signal the start of a weekend, 22 Central students are setting a record. That’s when labs are crowded with the largest-ever number of chemistry researchers, says professor of chemistry Cathy Haustein.
No student is required to do original research at Central. However, a growing number are taking advantage of opportunities to collaborate with their professors. “For professors, it keeps us mentally stimulated and involved in our fields,” Haustein says. “For students, it shows them what it’s really like to be a scientist. It’s a hands-on part of education that every student needs.”
Besides research experience for their resume, Haustein says students also encounter mystery, setbacks and excitement in the lab. “They can share their joys and frustrations,” Haustein says. “They learn to understand it’s all part of the process.”
This is true for Karlee Rock ’15, a biology major working with visiting assistant professor of chemistry James Dunne. “I’ve done countless new reactions trying to find something that will be useful,” Rock says. “We haven’t found the structure we want yet — there’s always some impurity.”
Rock still enjoys the challenge and opportunity to team up with faculty. “It’s really cool to get that interaction with a professor,” she says. “He’s not watching over your shoulder making sure you’re doing it right — you bounce ideas off each other.”
More people in the lab also means more fun, Haustein says, especially when faculty and students are waiting on chemical reactions. “We play music and we dance around,” says Ellie Miller ’15. “The lab is a lot of fun.”
Meanwhile, ongoing research provides an opportunity for Central professors to invest in students and explore topics they’re curious about. “We do it because we like it, and it’s just so good for our students,” Haustein says. “It’s fun to teach chemistry, but this is really doing. It makes you feel really alive as a department.”
Plus, working in the lab helps students solidify classroom knowledge. “I’ve gained so many new lab skills that will be useful in my future,” Rock says. “Everything you learn in class clicks.”
Get to know some chemistry majors who love the lab…
ASHLEY CRUIKSHANK ’15 (known across campus as “Skittles”) started doing research as an Upward Bound student and high school junior. Now she has done research for every chemistry professor. “I wanted to see what research was like with each branch of chemistry Central professors specialize in,” Cruikshank says, “and it also helped me find which branch of chemistry I like the most.”
After graduating from Central, Cruikshank plans to get a Ph.D. degree in chemistry — specializing in organometallics, like visiting assistant professor of chemistry James Dunne — or chemical engineering. Either way, Cruikshank wants to keep doing research.
KARLEE ROCK ’15 says independent research is the icing on her cake. Rock, a biology major from Wheatland, Iowa, will graduate with three semesters and one summer of research experience, plus her achievements as a varsity softball letter winner and semester in London. “When you’re from a small school, it’s cool to be able to say everything you’ve accomplished,” Rock says. “You can do it all.”
THE PALMER BROS
SAM and BEN PALMER, both from Pella, work on research with assistant professor of chemistry Jay Wackerly. Ben ’15 and Sam ’17 are biology and biochemistry double-majors and hope to attend medical school after graduating from Central.
Both Palmers conduct original research related to macrocycles. “What we are studying has never been studied before,” Ben says. He recently presented original work at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in San Francisco.
Although the brothers work independently, they enjoy sharing much of their experience. “We also actually live together this year at Central,” says Ben. “We shared a room up until about fifth grade and missed each other, so we thought we would go back to bunk beds at college.”
THE LAB DWELLER
ELLIE MILLER ’15 says research experience confirmed her goal to work in a lab after graduation. “My time in the lab is when I’m happiest,” Miller says, “so I know I’m doing what I want to do.”
Miller, a chemistry major from Glenwood, Iowa, has been helping visiting assistant professor of chemistry James Dunne develop metal catalysts for converting alcohols to produce hydrogen gas — an important component of bio-renewable fuel.
Miller says she loves seeing what happens in the lab, even when her strategy doesn’t work. “To me, it’s always been fascinating,” she says.
THE PROBLEM SOLVER
MARISSA BRANDT ’16 says independent research lets her take ownership of a project. Brandt, a chemistry major from Center Point, Iowa, works with visiting assistant professor of chemistry James Dunne to use chromium lignins to create useful chemicals.
Brandt says she loves to work independently, then talk with Dunne to reimagine strategies that failed. “It hasn’t been 100 percent figured out yet — we’re not just validating someone else’s research,” Brandt says. “Often times, we’re just flying by the seat of our pants.”
THE DONUT GUY
CHASE KOOYMAN ’14 has been helping Jay Wackerly, assistant professor of chemistry, create new macrocycles called oxacalixarenes, which look like molecular donuts.
Kooyman, a biochemistry and biology major from Pella, says this experience is vital to his career goal — becoming a clinical pharmacist at a research hospital. “You can’t advance without research,” Kooyman says. “It’s one of the top criteria for grad school.”
Through doing research together, Kooyman says he enjoys getting to know Wackerly better. “He comes off very professional at first,” Kooyman says, “but he’s a really funny and entertaining guy.”