ASPIRE Generates Enthusiasm for Science
The passion that Alma junior Amanda Gatlin has for scientific research is apparent within minutes of talking to her.
She smiles and recalls doing research before even registering for classes at Alma College thanks to a weeklong stay on campus through the ASPIRE program, which introduces prospective students to science.
“The fact that you can start a research project before you’re even a freshman and meet friends and professors is such a great opportunity,” she says. “You spend a couple hours in each lab on campus and make really awesome connections with faculty members. Now, I feel like I always have someone to talk to about the future or about classes.”
Since her freshman year, Gatlin has been working exclusively with Joel Dopke, assistant professor of chemistry, on a grant-funded molecular synthesis research project. She says the plan is to make mimics of biological molecules and try to characterize them to see if they can do what literature says they should do.
“It’s something no one has ever done before,” she says. “It’s really cool that at a small college like Alma, we’re doing something that could be so useful to the world’s scientific knowledge. The results of this project could potentially help reduce the need for fossil fuels.”
Because the project is still in its early phases, Gatlin plans to continue working on it right up until she graduates Alma. This means she will be able to write a senior thesis about her research, something she says excites her.
“A senior thesis says, ‘Hey! Look at all this work that I’ve done!’” she says. “Research helps you stand out. It shows that on top of taking classes and being involved on campus, I can do research, put my data together and present. I know how to manage my time.”
Students conduct research at ASPIRE 2011.
Gatlin recently presented her work at a conference hosted by the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
“There were a lot of graduate students at the conference, which was a little intimidating,” she says. “Dr. Dopke and I prepared for it, though, and everyone was nice. They were impressed that I was only a sophomore and had already done so much work.”
She hopes to publish a paper on the research, an accomplishment that she says is “pretty much priceless for a junior.” For now, Gatlin will be in the lab this summer whenever she gets a free moment.
“I’ve learned a lot about the power of trial and error,” she says. “Eighty percent of what you try in the lab doesn’t work. That can be discouraging, but you have to keep trying. Learning that something doesn’t work is just as helpful as knowing something did work.”
More than 40 pre-college freshmen will participate in the 2012 ASPIRE summer research opportunity July 7-14 on the Alma College campus. ASPIRE is the research experience for incoming science and mathematics students through the PRISM, or Positive Routes into Science and Mathematics, program. PRISM is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Posted: Thu, July 5th, 2012 at 1:41PM