My Research Experience with Dr. Plass by Alex Wiltrout '11
When I first came to Franklin & Marshall College, I knew that I wanted to major in chemistry, but I had no idea about all of the endless opportunities that would arise from my decision to do so. One of the greatest opportunities that arose from this was being able to conduct research here at F&M in collaboration with a faculty member in the chemistry department. Beginning the summer after my sophomore year, I have been conducting research under the direction of Dr. Katherine Plass. Dr. Plass was actually the one who first got me interested in the multidisciplinary fields of materials chemistry and nanoscience. My current work here at F&M involves the synthesis and characterization of nanoscale semiconducting materials, with the potential for use in low-cost, highly efficient solar cells. I particularly enjoy my research not only because it is of interest to me, but also because of the numerous real-world applications of what I am working on, especially given the world’s need for viable alternative energy sources.
My research experience has been so valuable to me as an undergraduate student studying chemistry here at F&M. Conducting research allows one to build upon what they have already learned in the classroom, and apply it in new ways to what is being investigated. Dr. Plass was essential to my development of such skills. These skills included but were not limited to learning how to conduct a successful literature search, how to read and interpret scientific articles, how to devise my own set of experiments, how to think critically about the results of experiments and draw conclusions from them, and how to write scientifically. She also introduced me to a wide array of experimental techniques and different types of instrumentation I normally wouldn’t have been exposed to in a typical course laboratory setting, including atomic force microscopy, powder X-ray diffraction, and transmission electron microscopy. I also thoroughly enjoyed the fact that we were able to work side-by-side in the laboratory on occasion. When working together, she treated me more like her colleague rather than as a student.
Dr. Plass was not only a great resource in the lab, but also an exceptional resource and wealth of information outside of the laboratory setting. As a senior at F&M, I am faced with the important decision of what to do after I graduate from college. Although I am currently unsure as to where my post-undergraduate path may lead, I learned from my own experience in Dr. Plass’s lab at F&M that I would like to continue to conduct research. Through her past experiences as a graduate student, Dr. Plass was able to provide valuable insight into what to look for in a graduate school, the application process, etc.
Altogether, I believe that my all-around research experience with Dr. Plass at F&M has greatly prepared me for whatever my future endeavors may hold. Dr. Plass has been a wonderful professor and research advisor, from whom I have learned so much. I am glad I had the opportunity and privilege to work with her.