Research paves the way to the future for chemistry graduate

When Jordan Buhle looks at the world around her, “it’s so complex and beautiful and ordered,” she says. “With chemistry, I’m able to look at those tiny complexities of the world, understand how they work and try to manipulate them. Sometimes it feels like a giant puzzle or a big mystery, but it fascinates me.”

The recent graduate from Milton, Wisconsin, majored in chemistry with minors in Spanish and physics. This fall, she is heading to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study in the organic chemistry Ph.D. program.

“I think I would really enjoy teaching at a small college like Ripon, doing great research and having great interactions with students,” Buhle says. “Or maybe I will work somewhere in industry.”

She feels she is well-prepared to take her next steps in chemistry through the academic challenges she encountered at Ripon College and the opportunities for summer research.

Most recently, she received an honorable mention from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship application which provides funding for graduate studies. College seniors and first- and second-year graduate students are eligible to apply.

“Getting an honorable mention as an undergrad, I’ve been told, is quite an honor and sets you up well for the next year or two as you continue to apply for these fellowships,” she says.

The first summer research program she was a part of was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working with Dr. Shannon Stahl. The group worked with a method to screen thousands of different catalysts to split water with electricity. When water is split, hydrogen gas is created; that creates a potential cheap, renewable fuel.

She also already has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society from her research work done during the summer of 2014 with Dr. Steven Kass at the University of Minnesota.

“We used infra-red spectroscopy to measure the acidities of organic compounds in nonpolar solvent,” Buhle explains. “There’s not a lot of acidity data or measurements taken in this type of system, which is surprising because a lot of organic reactions that depend on acid reactivity are carried out in these nonpolar solvents.”

She was excited to be a part of the published work. “It’s a great jumping-off point for starting graduate studies,” she says. “I’ve been visiting all these different schools this spring and visiting with established researchers in the field. It was cool to have that validation for the work I’ve been doing, and to have that recognized throughout the community was really neat.”

Buhle says there are a lot of summer research opportunities available, “but it takes a lot of personal initiative to find the programs, as well as encouragements from the professors to pursue summer research programs.

“Doing research has given me a lot more confidence as a researcher, and I feel that I can succeed in graduate school,” Buhle says. “It’s shown me that I’m comfortable working independently in a lab, that I enjoy research and I can see myself doing more in the future.

“It’s helped me to learn and find out new things about the world and different chemical systems, and to develop and satisfy my own interests for a future career.”

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