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Chemistry research helps students synthesize their futures

 14 0 12 7 ericbowman
January 28, 2014

January finds McDaniel students exploring a diverse variety of interests both on campus and around the globe. It’s a pursuit that led junior Chemistry major Eric Bowman and three classmates to third-floor labs in Eaton Hall.

Bowman and seniors Biochemistry major Olusegun Alade, Chemistry major Kyle Hunter and Biochemistry and Exercise Science major Jake Zamostny spent Jan Term experimenting with the chemical synthesis of molecules designed to subvert antibiotic resistance. No one came close to actually designing a revolutionary new drug. But then no one expected that outcome either.

Instead, there were different lessons to be learned by each of the participants, including Chemistry professor and department chair Peter Craig, who is considering incorporating the syntheses in labs for his Inorganic Chemistry course.

Bowman’s motives for spending three weeks of days and some evenings in the lab were fairly straightforward. He simply wanted to learn more – about synthesis, about the equipment and importantly, about himself.

“I am a firm believer that practical application is the most efficient way to understand something,” says Bowman, a Chemistry major from Westminster, Md. “Trekking into unknown territory in this research is far more interesting than following a specific set of instructions – and I have a much better grasp on the understanding and usage of the equipment.”

Still planning on going to medical school, Bowman wanted to “test drive” research and the possibility of also pursuing a graduate degree.

“Now that I know I enjoy doing research, I’m flirting with the idea of undertaking an M.D.-Ph.D. program,” he said. “I realized there’s no reason I have to choose between one degree or the other, so why not get both?”

Bowman’s realization is one of the top reasons Craig believes in undergraduates collaborating with their professors on research – both in and outside the classroom.

“I think it is a way to give students a better education,” says Craig. “Research is another level of training we can give them.

“When there is no known outcome it scares them – but it also excites them and makes them think.”

Of course, Craig smiles when he says that in research, nine out of 10 times things fail.

“But they learn more from what is not happening – and they also have an accurate idea of graduate school,” he says, acknowledging that the three-week Jan Term research is just enough to whet their appetites for research. “It is a win-win situation in that these students are helping me test research leads for a Chemistry course and they are also seeing if research is a feasible option for them in the future.”