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Barry Chemists Leaving the Lab for a Spring Trip to California

By Lana Sumner-Borema

A few lucky Barry students have been invited on an all-expense-paid trip to San Diego, California this March. Their mission, however, differs a bit from the traditional spring break trip to the beach.

From left to right Barry U chemistry students Lana Sumner-Borema, Lise-Berthe Laurent, Jakub Ettrich, & Erika Pierre. Photo Credit to Amanda Gonzalez Garcia.

Every year the American Chemical Society (ACS) hosts a spring meeting where national and international chemists can meet and share their research. A select group of chemistry majors and minors have been selected to attend and present at this Spring meeting, along with e-board members of one of the nation’s “Outstanding Chapters” of students, Barry’s Chemistry Club, as they were recognized by the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Tamara Hamilton, Barry faculty advisor for the student chapter, said the ACS is one of the world’s largest professional organizations with members ranging from undergraduate students to academics working at universities, to working chemical engineers or professionals at biomedical or pharmaceutical companies.

They place a strong emphasis on science education outreach to communities.

Barry U chemistry student Lana Sumner-Borema. Photo Credit to Amanda Gonzalez Garcia.

"The ACS National meeting gives an opportunity to present one’s own research results, and learn about the latest research from others, as well as networking with other chemists, fostering collaborations, or finding the next educational or job opportunity," she said. "When you are part of a small department and doing research with one or two other students and faculty, it’s difficult to comprehend how your work impacts the field as a whole and that there are other people out there really interested in the same thing, who want to talk to you about it.”

For chemistry majors, attending the meeting is a big deal, and their excitement might even top that of those who are opting for the beach this spring.

For Jakub Ettrich, a junior chemistry major who specializes in biochemistry and serves as president of the chemistry club, research at Barry pushed him further to pursue a doctorate degree in his realm. Under his faculty research advisor Dr. Conrad Fischer, Ettrich’s research focuses on chemically creating a fluorescent label that could be used to study a specific protein in hopes to benefit patients suffering from cardiovascular disease.

Barry U chemistry student Jakub Ettrich. Photo Credit to Amanda Gonzalez Garcia.

Ettrich is excited about the upcoming meeting and “the chance to learn more about recent research of all the other chemists from both the U.S. and other countries and to discuss science with like-minded people.”

Lise-Berthe Laurent, another chemistry major in her fourth and final year, also specializes in biochemistry and has ongoing research with the help of Hamilton that involves creating compounds with the ability to harvest light using a method known as “green chemistry” that follows certain principles to minimize negative environmental impacts. “[The compounds have] a range of uses from being involved in a non-invasive form of cancer therapy to being used in solar panels,” she said.

Laurent is looking forward to networking with other chemists around the U.S. as she wants to continue with more research after graduation and eventually go into a Ph.D. program with a similar focus to her undergraduate work.

According to Hamilton, this meeting is not only applicable to chemistry majors interested in specific fields, but all Barry students.

She believes that students can gain so much more from research than they can gain in the classroom.

“In a classroom setting, you are pretty much following a set path towards learning… Even in a lab course, you’re doing hands-on experiments, but the expected outcome of those experiments is already known," she said.

Research, said Hamilton, allows students to apply their knowledge to a problem that no one has solved yet.

Photo Credit to Amanda Gonzalez Garcia

"It develops so many skills that are useful, not only for someone who will go to graduate school and become a professional scientist, but for anyone doing anything in life, those deeper problem-solving skills are important. It’s also good to see that knowledge can be applied to a problem that doesn’t always have a clear-cut solution,” Hamilton said.

The ACS national meeting this spring will occur from March 20 to March 24. Students, specifically seniors in the chemistry department, are eager to discuss their research.

While science or chemistry specifically might not be an interest of yours, you can never be sure until you start asking questions.

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