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Collaboration in the Chemistry Lab Inspires Budding Scientist

Anthony Wishard '13 remembers driving past Franklin & Marshall College on his way to visit schools in Philadelphia during his college-search process. The native of Lancaster County never thought much about applying to the nearby liberal arts college, focusing his sights on larger schools in the big city.

But sometime during Wishard's senior year in high school, someone asked him if he had considered applying to F&M, a school known for its strong chemistry program and hands-on research opportunities for students.

"I knew chemistry was what I wanted to study, and when I looked at F&M, I realized students had great opportunities to do research," Wishard said. "Those opportunities made F&M the best fit for me."

A chemistry major and applied mathematics minor, Wishard has made research his top priority in three-plus years at F&M. He will present a poster on metal-mineral interactions at the College's Autumn Research Fair, which will be held from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, in the Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building. The poster is the result of Wishard's collaborative summer project with Associate Professor and Chair of Chemistry Jennifer Morford.

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  • F&M student Anthony Wishard '13 and Associate Professor of Chemistry Jennifer Morford take a break from their research in F&M's Hackman Physical Sciences Building. Wishard will present a poster on metal-mineral interactions at the College's Autumn Research Fair Oct. 19. (Photo by Tim Brixius)

"Working in the lab with Professor Morford has given me an idea of the technologies I'll use as a scientist," Wishard said. "Anyone who says they want to study chemistry should have opportunities like these. Being able to do research at F&M has been phenomenal."

Wishard's research focuses on molybdate, a metal compound that precipitates, or becomes a solid during a chemical reaction, in marine environments. Trace metals such as molybdenum do not break down in sediments, offering scientists an understanding of changes in marine environments over time. Wishard studied the interaction between molybdate and a common mineral, pyrite—better known as "fool's gold"—in Morford's lab using an oxygen-free container called a glove box.

"This was a simple proxy system to understand what happens in a much more complex environment," said Morford, who has been studying molybdenum since her Ph.D. work in the 1990s. "Other students provided foundational work for this research, and Anthony has kept the ball moving. Our goal is to better understand what's going on and to share it with the scientific community by publishing our work."

Support for Wishard's research came from the Fred A. Snavely '49 Summer Research Award, offered annually by F&M's Department of Chemistry to recognize former Professor Snavely's dedication to excellence in research and teaching. A portion of the research also was funded by a grant Morford received from the American Chemical Society.

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  • Anthony Wishard '13 explores the interaction between molybdate, a metal compound, and pyrite, a common mineral also known as fool's gold, in F&M's Hackman Physical Sciences Building. Wishard is using a glove box, which contains an oxygen-free environment. (Photo by Tim Brixius)

Wishard began working with Morford in January 2011 after the two struck up a conversation in the chemistry stock room of F&M's Hackman Physical Sciences Building. He has conducted research under the professor's supervision on several occasions since, including a two-semester independent study project this year that builds upon their summer research on molybdate. Morford has watched Wishard develop as a researcher and critical thinker over the past two years.

"Initially, Anthony and other students approach research with blinders on, looking only at their own results," Morford said. "But how do those results connect with other research and our understanding of the world? That's a fairly large intellectual leap. Anthony has taken ownership of his research and is willing to challenge me about the direction of the project. And he's earned that right. You can really see him make the transition from a directed experience to an independent experience."

Wishard's next goal is a Ph.D. in chemistry, an objective he confirmed through his research at F&M. "Doing research doesn't feel like a job," Wishard said. "I know I can do something I love, and do it for the rest of my life."

Wishard's project in the Research Fair will bring back memories for Morford, whose first day working at F&M happened to be the same day as the Autumn Research Fair in 2002.

"I remember being completely smacked in the face that day by the diverse research opportunities here," Morford said. "We have passionate students doing research in a wide spectrum of fields. Students who go through the research process are opening their minds, learning how to write and speak, gaining intellectual skills and becoming critical thinkers. Developing in those ways will help you no matter what field you're in."