When I was an undergraduate, my studies went in very different and unexpected directions from what I had learned in high school. I learned things that broke what I thought of as laws of chemistry. That led me to the field of chemistry where all that happens, namely synthetic organometallic chemistry. It fascinated me back then and continues to do so.
Now, as a professor, I enjoy giving students foundational knowledge in chemistry, and challenging them to stretch and apply that knowledge in new ways and find new solutions to problems. I like to get students thinking about the connections among the material they’ve learned in my class and in other classes, and how it all fits together.
One of my favorite assignments occurs in my senior Inorganic Chemistry course. In this course, students review the research of an inorganic chemist that I choose, and they write a paper detailing the findings of that work. Students then propose ways to extend this work, and oftentimes their ideas go well outside the material covered in my course. It allows them to be creative and use their own personal experiences to suggest ways to expand on existing chemical knowledge. I tell students up front that this is by far the toughest assignment of the semester, and while they typically agree, they usually say it was their favorite.
My Research Interests
My expertise is in the field of synthetic organometallic chemistry, but perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that I am an explorer of uncharted chemical space. In the lab, students and I make chemical compounds that have never previously existed.
Think of my lab as a LEGO store: What we do is we take different molecules (like LEGO pieces) and use them to build new combinations of chemicals. Ideally, we want these new chemical compounds to have a useful purpose. So, we study their chemical properties and test them to see if the new compounds can be used as efficient catalysts. Catalysts are substances that facilitate chemical reactions, and they are often used in the preparation of pharmaceutical products.
Working with undergraduates in the research lab is the most rewarding aspect of my position. While I could perform the experiments myself, it is much more enjoyable to work with students as we move my research forward. Their sense of awe when I tell them to handle a new compound carefully because they are holding the universe’s supply, and their different perspectives on the project serve as tremendous inspiration to keep my project moving forward. The close interaction with students leads to relationships that last even after they graduate. My students have gone in many different directions after Lafayette, and some of them have gone on to work in my field. I even see some of them at conferences, and it’s rewarding to see all the exciting things they’re doing in their careers.
In spring 2022, my research was recognized by the American Chemical Society when I received the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution. This award would not have been possible if not for the incredible contributions made by the students I have been privileged to work with, such as Sadie Wolfarth ’22 and Tash Miner’22, who were able to attend the awards ceremony with me.
There is also significant support for research at Lafayette. I have a dedicated lab space to perform research, which means students can work at times that fit into their schedule and we do not need to share the space with classes or my colleagues. The department has also invested in excellent instrumentation, including a newly upgraded Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer and a single crystal X-ray diffractometer. This second instrument is a vital component to my research, as it allows us to unambiguously determine the structure of new compounds and it is not common to have such an instrument at an undergraduate institution. In addition, I have tremendous support in the department. In particular, we have several support staff who are able to maintain our instruments and chemical inventory, which provides more time for me to do research.
Awards and Honors
ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, American Chemical Society (2022)
E. Emmet Reid Award in Chemistry Teaching at Small Colleges, Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Chemical Society (2017)
Research grant, National Science Foundation (2016)
James E. Lennertz Prize for Exceptional Teaching and Mentoring, Lafayette College (2016)
American Chemical Society Division of Inorganic Chemistry Award for Undergraduate Research (as preceptor; student, Chelsea Mandell), American Chemical Society (2013)
Research grant, National Science Foundation (2011)
Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Lecture Award, Lafayette College (2007)
Research grant, Petroleum Research Fund (2005)
Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Chemical Research, Indiana University (2004)
Delta Upsilon Distinguished Mentoring and Teaching Award, Lafayette College (2004)
Research grant, Petroleum Research Fund (2002)
Teaching Excellence Award, Iowa State University (1992)
My Personal Interests/Community Work
Member of the leadership council of the Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists (IONiC)