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​Dr. Martin Gruebele, professor of physics at the
University of Illinois, Elizabeth Lunny ’12, Hilary
Chase ’13, and Dr. Martina Havenith, professor of
physics at Ruhr-University Bochum.

Chemistry Students Take Home Honors at National Conference

Two Providence College chemistry students — a recent graduate and a rising senior — topped a field largely comprised of graduate students from across the country to earn honors for their research at an American Chemical Society (ACS) national conference.

Elizabeth Lunny ’12 (Scituate, Mass.) and Hilary Chase ’13 (South Sandwich, Mass.) were among the seven students who were recognized for their work at the ACS’ Physical Chemistry Division poster session held in San Diego, Calif. More than 130 posters were presented at the session.

“It’s important to note that Hilary and Elizabeth were competing almost exclusively against graduate students,” said Dr. Christopher Laperle, assistant professor of chemistry. “Most chemistry graduate students devote 100 percent of their time and effort to their research projects. It is truly remarkable that they won as undergraduates.”

Both of the students’ posters were focused on their work with pentacarbonyls, a center metal atom with five carbon monoxide molecules bound to it.

Lunny’s poster was entitled “Solution Dynamics of Iron Pentacarbonyl and Ruthenium Pentacarbonyl in Alcohol Solvents.” Chase’s was “Solution Dynamics of Iron Pentacarbonyl in Various Alkenes, Dienes, and Ethers.”

Seasoned student-researcher

Lunny has been working with pentacarbonyls since 2010. During the past two years, she had the opportunity to travel and present her research at several local poster sessions and three national ACS meetings in Anaheim, Calif., Denver, Colo., and San Diego.

“Attending these conferences has exposed me to cutting-edge research in a variety of fields. It’s also always interesting to hear the questions and feedback from other physical chemists when I present,” said Lunny, who also spent two weeks at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois conducting and observing ultraviolet pump X-ray probe experiments in the summer of 2011.

While Lunny has experienced many successes in and out of the classroom, including having two papers published in peer-reviewed physical chemistry journals, she was humbled to be recognized by the ACS.

“I invested a lot of hours obtaining and analyzing data, organizing my results into a coherent poster, and planning how to present my project in a comprehensible way,” she said. “This recognition was a tangible result of all of the effort I put into my presentation.”

Laperle, who co-wrote the poster with Lunny, said because Lunny holds herself to high standards, she inspires him to do the same.

An example of those high standards bearing fruit can be seen in Lunny’s acceptance into a graduate program in physical chemistry at the California Institute of Technology this fall, Laperle said.

“In terms of excellence, prestige, and selectivity, this is equivalent to Harvard or MIT,” he explained. “They accept something like eight percent of applicants from a pool of the very best undergraduate chemistry students worldwide.”

First-timer thrilled

Like Lunny, Chase co-authored her poster with Laperle. In addition, Marcus Widell ’10 was a poster author.

Chase said being honored at the conference was special because it was the first time she has presented at a science conference.

“Traveling and presenting research in San Diego was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to talk to people who understand and appreciate all of the different aspects of our research,” Chase said. “It was cool to talk to chemists, spectroscopists, and theoreticians who posed interesting questions and gave good suggestions about possible research ventures.”

She added, “It’s great to know that the work we did this year was interesting and successful.”

Laperle said Chase motivates him to provide her with the best direction and lab instruction possible because “she has worked very hard at building her skills in the research lab.”

“I am very excited that we will continue to work together over the next year,” he said.

Faculty mentorship crucial

Whether it’s been in the classroom or the research lab, Chase said the mentorship she has received from faculty members in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has challenged her “to push harder and think deeper.”

Lunny agreed, saying, “All of my chemistry professors were encouraging and supportive, while challenging me to achieve at the highest level, which will undoubtedly help me in my future studies.”

She singled out Laperle for his guidance. “He’s played an integral role in preparing me for the graduate school environment by providing the highest-quality research experience. Through his example and encouragement, I have learned the importance of persistence, commitment, and hard work for success in a research lab.”

— Chris Machado

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