For the past two summers, Kaitlin Traister ’10 has worked with Marcus Thomsen, professor of chemistry, conducting research on organic chemical reactions with ionic liquids as solvents. Using a “green” chemistry approach, Traister has gained hands-on experience running reactions and extracting and analyzing the products in the context of environmentally friendly chemistry processes.
This year, however, she was ready for something different. “I wanted the same experience but in a different field,” Traister said, “so that I would have well-rounded research experience by the time I go to graduate school.” Traister applied to and was accepted by the University of Maryland’s prestigious Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the REU seeks to involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing academic research projects and provides a stipend to accepted applicants.
At Maryland, Traister is working with Professor Luz Martinez-Miranda, examining the interaction of liquid crystal with nanoscale materials. She will use new equipment, learn new techniques and handle different materials. “The REU program will allow me to take everything I’ve learned in all my training at F&M and enable me to grow and experience new things in a larger environment to develop into more of a well-rounded research chemist,” Traister said.
Traister was a bit conflicted about wanting to experience chemistry on a different campus, so she e-mailed Thomsen to solicit his advice before she applied. Thomsen encouraged her to pursue the opportunity. “I told her that going off to a new location and seeing new people is well worth doing. I also explained that one of the bittersweet aspects of working with students like her is that excellent opportunities come along for these good students at other locations. I did not want to be possessive. It’s rewarding to see research students use what they’ve learned in my research lab in new settings.”
Beyond her lab work, Traister will participate in many REU group activities, including weekly seminars on topics related to chemistry and trips to local sites such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. She will interact with students who have similar interests from places such as Mexico, California and Puerto Rico.
She credits Franklin & Marshall’s Chemistry Department for preparing her to capitalize on this opportunity.
“The fact that F&M is a smaller school and has a small Chemistry Department definitely helped me, because I got a lot of close interaction with my professors there,” she says. “Working with Dr. Thomsen was really helpful. His encouragement and his teaching made me want to continue doing research chemistry. In general, Franklin & Marshall has been a very nurturing place in terms of learning.”