By | Andrew Olinger ’15 
Ames, Iowa

“Our research has implications for increasing yields while reducing hazardous byproducts.”

A chemistry lab is not where I thought I’d end up; I was set on majoring in biology. But a few weeks into Professor Keith Kuwata’s General Chemistry first-year course I became enamored with the subject.

In Professor Kuwata’s lab, we conduct research in computational chemistry. This involves performing calculations that predict the behavior of the electrons that link atoms and brings the complex rules of quantum mechanics into the lab.

Our lab utilizes a high-performance computer cluster, made possible by Macalester’s access to a 96-node cluster shared with other Midwestern liberal arts colleges and funded by the National Science Foundation.

The reaction we’re studying ultimately cuts bonds between two atoms and is commonly employed to make compounds such as acetone, an industrial solvent. Our research has implications for increasing yields of the product while reducing hazardous byproducts, which is quite valuable for the possible environmental advantages.

Mastering the process of designing an experiment, collecting data, and interpreting and presenting results will help prepare me for medical school. Because most postgraduate science programs today prefer that that applicants have sound research experience, the opportunity for doing such independent research was among the things that drew me to Macalester.

By the end of my junior year I will have presented our research at the Universities of Minnesota, Michigan, and Chicago as well as at Washington University in St. Louis.

January 22, 2014

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