For a growing number of Michigan State University students, undergraduate research is a defining experience in their college career. Many say hands-on research makes them better learners and critical thinkers. It allows them to apply new knowledge to their studies, and helps them map their paths to graduation. For some, undergraduate research experiences have changed their lives. The “Undergraduate Researcher of the Week” series spotlights one student and shares his or her unique UR story.
Amy Pochodylo ’13 came to East Lansing with a passion for chemistry. “I loved it in high school, and knew I wanted to work in chemistry for the rest of my life,” she explains. What she lacked was research experience and a chance to put theory to practice.
Her interests made Michigan State a superb choice. “Lyman Briggs College held a huge attraction for me when I was applying to college. I knew I’d have the chance to live and work with other students in the sciences. I was also awarded a Professorial Assistantship through the Honors College, which guaranteed I’d be involved in research from day one.” Walking the MSU campus, Amy got to observe the legendary camaraderie of the Spartan Nation firsthand. “I could tell everyone was so proud to be a Spartan. I knew I wanted to experience that school spirit myself.”
Amy was paired with Dr. Robert LaDuca, a chemistry professor affiliated with Lyman Briggs. Her research involves work on organometallic approaches to inorganic polymers. “Basically, I synthesize crystals and study their properties through x-ray diffraction and different spectroscopy methods such as infrared and luminescence.” Amy also gets to try her hand at creating new organic ligands. Ligands are ions or molecules that bind to a central metal atom. “Our lab uses some unique ligands, which allows us to get some very cool results,” she enthuses. To begin, she mixes a metal salt, an organic acid, and a ligand, and puts them in the reaction bomb. After the reaction is allowed to occur at high temperatures for a few days, Amy studies the resulting crystals. “We use x-ray diffraction to figure out the internal molecular structure of the crystal. It shoots x-rays at the crystals and takes a picture of the x-rays coming through the crystal. A computer program compiles all the pictures and calculates where the atoms in the crystal should be.” Once Amy has confirmed the crystal’s structure, she studies its other properties through infrared and luminescence spectroscopy.
Over the summer, Amy had the opportunity to create a new ligand. “I managed to make it by combining a few different prep methods and ended up with a ligand that has a lot of potential and has already delivered some interesting results. I’m the only one in the chemistry world with this ligand, so I hold the world supply of it! It’s so cool because this ligand opens up a whole new set of possibilities.”
For Amy, undergraduate research confirmed her interest in chemistry as a career path. “I’ve learned what the research process entails – from the grunt work to the data collection to the paper-writing process. Participating in research is also tons of fun! I’ve made several good friends through research, and networked with many other students and faculty.”
What advice does Amy have for other MSU students thinking about undergraduate research? “Do it! Don’t let anything hold you back from pursuing your research interests. It is one of the best experiences you can have. There’s no reason to let the opportunity pass you by. Talk to professors and students about their research interests and follow through if anything seems intriguing to you. Go into the research setting with an open mind and be prepared for some challenging. Most importantly, have fun! You’ll get a lot less out of the research experience if you aren’t enjoying it.”