Kathryn E. Splan
Assistant Professor, Chemistry
Exploring the Unknown
I spent two summers and an academic year performing research in chemistry professor Kathryn Splan’s laboratory. My project focused on porphyrins, a class of molecules with the basic substructure of natural pigments like chlorophyll (the green in plant leaves) and heme (the red color in blood). These highly colored molecules have the potential to be used in many applications, including molecule-based solar cells and as light-activated drugs for cancer treatment. I synthesized a series of new porphyrins and measured how strongly they absorb and emit light, and then correlated the properties of the molecules to their chemical structures.
The atmosphere during summer research at Macalester was one of the things that made me want to return for a second year. I was performing research with professors and dozens of other science majors, and socializing at the weekly barbecues. In research at Mac, both the professors and students are delving into projects and asking questions that don’t yet have an answer. The professor, while providing instruction and guidance when necessary, is dependent on the student for the answer. The genuine excitement from all the faculty and staff has led to connections to additional professors who have given advice and written letters of recommendation for graduate school.
The classes at Macalester introduced me to the organic and physical chemistry aspects of my project, and I applied those techniques in the synthesis and characterization of the porphyrin molecules. My physical chemistry course showed me that making these molecules was only the tip of the iceberg. I began to develop the perspective of a long-term project—rather than a single experiment—where your data analysis guides the future of the project along a sometimes unexpected path.
Macalester provides opportunities for students to explore their interests beyond the classroom, and performing research is just one way. Playing varsity football and club hockey, along with being a chemistry major with a two-year research project, has been more than manageable and has allowed me to do all of the things that I enjoy at Macalester.