My undergraduate degree is a B.A. in Chemistry with minors in Mathematics and English from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. After graduation, I worked in industry for nearly three years in the area of environmental analytical chemistry. This experience clearly opened my eyes to the impact that analytical chemistry and testing laboratories had on solving environmental contamination problems and on influencing environmental remediation and regulatory policy. In fact, the challenges placed upon me in this job refueled my interests to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry. I attended graduate school at the University of Utah to study physical/analytical chemistry with an emphasis in electrochemistry under the guidance of Professor Henry S. White. My graduate work focused on studying electrochemical adsorption phenomena at solid/liquid interfaces. Building upon my graduate experience, I journeyed to Northwestern University to work with Professor Joseph T. Hupp in the areas of electrochemical materials and chemical sensors. My postdoctoral research activities included the study of mesoporous materials for separations, chemical sensing and energy storage applications. I guess I chose a career in chemistry because I felt like it was something that had not only a very strong fundamental side, but also a practical side. I could touch it, see it and I could create with it. I was attracted to UT by the strong scientific reputation of the University, the quality of the students, and the opportunity to work with several great scientists currently residing at UT.
Mainly, we look at interfacial processes occurring at solid/liquid interfaces. Understanding the chemistry and physics at these interfaces can have huge technological implications such as in the development of sensors, energy conversation/storage processes (batteries and fuel cells) and separations applications. A couple of students that are working in the chemical sensor area are trying to develop innovative ways to make miniaturized chemical sensors that are low-cost for environmental applications. We have a number of projects in our group that look at developing novel analytical methodologies for studying reactions at these important interfaces. Recently, my students have developed some high resolution imaging methodologies for visualization of ion/charge transfer reactions that occur at metal oxide surfaces. For example, using these techniques we can see how ions such as lithium insert into a material, how they get stored, and then how they can reversibly come back out. This is the basis for energy storage and how lithium batteries operate. There is a number of structural and physical factors that influence the overall efficiency and operation of these types of devices. There are a number of properties that we can control, such as the porosity, surface area, and the crystallinity to improve the efficiency of energy storage processes. By taking this kind of approach we hope to better understand how certain materials behave for particular applications.
Currently, I am responsible for teaching the graduate level Advanced Analytical Chemistry course, as well as giving lectures on the topics of Electrochemistry, Spectroscopy, Electronics, Digital Imaging and Image Processing. I guess the thing I enjoy the most about teaching is when students start to make a connection, and begin to clue into the fact that knowledge is power, and that if they understand something and how to apply it, that it gives them an advantage. I’d call my teaching style very democratic. I give the students lots of opportunities to decide how the course should be taught. For instance, we will change a test date if everybody agrees that this would be in his or her best interest. I have found that sometimes this is hard for some students to deal with, because they haven’t really been forced to make decisions, or to be held accountable for those decisions. Once they realize that there are consequences of making certain decisions, they start to pay more attention about how specific choices directly influence their situation. I think it’s a good exercise for them because it reminds them that they need to actively look out for their best interests and not just allow others to lead them through something. Students should actively ask the question “how does this actually influence my education?” I mainly lecture in my classes and sometimes I do demonstrations. I would like to introduce more visual presentations along with more exercises designed to improve a student’s problem solving ability and to enhance scientific communication and writing skills. One of the biggest challenges of teaching at UT is keeping the students attention in the large classes.
I’ve realized that life is short and that you should try to make the best of it. Students should explore all opportunities until they find something that they can relate to and something that motivates them to get out of bed in the morning. The act of pursing a bachelors or advanced degree is really an opportunity to make one more independent and self sufficient. College presents many opportunities and barriers that allow you to kind of work things out. Those students that are most successful are the ones that develop an independence and ability to question and reason. These acquired skills then allow them to use their newly gained knowledge. One person that I admire is Linus Pauling; the only guy to win two unshared Noble prizes, one for chemistry and one for peace. That’s phenomenal! He unraveled the nature of the chemical bond and spoke out against nuclear war at a very difficult time in U.S. history. This man studied in many different sub-disciplines of chemistry. He was a physical chemist by training, but he was into medicine and biochemistry and biology. It amazes me that he could work in so many different areas at the same time and contribute so much to science and humanity as well. I also admire Michael Faraday, a person who came from humble beginnings with little formal education, but scientifically he achieved a great deal. He was perhaps the greatest experimentalist of all time. He made many pioneering discoveries in electricity and magnetism. He discovered benzene and liquefied chlorine. He established the fundamental law of electrolysis and introduced several electrochemical terms such as ion, electrode, cathode and anode. He invented the electrical transformer and dynamo. The impacts of his scientific contributions are unprecedented and provided the fundamental basis for development of many devices that operate on electromagnetic principles (telephone, microphone, and phonograph). Outside of UT, my hobbies are woodworking and fly-fishing.