For Dr. Clara P. Adams, GEP scholar, current recipient of a Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship, and recipient of the Graduate Research (2013) and Graduate Teaching Effectiveness (2012) Awards from the Chemistry department, the decision to pursue research in chemistry at WMU has yielded fantastic success, but she gives credit to those who helped and inspired her in her chemistry lab and at the Graduate College. After completing her undergraduate degree in Charlotte, North Carolina, she might have attended pharmacy school if not for the opportunity and encouragement she received from WMU’s Dr. Sherine Obare, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Clara’s eventual advisor. Dr. Obare gave Clara the chance to work on a project in her lab in Charlotte — a project evaluating stilbene-based molecular sensors for the detection of organophosphorous pesticides — the first “real world” academic experience Clara had outside of her undergraduate chemistry labs. Later, Dr. Obare encouraged her to apply to WMU’s master’s program in chemistry, after which Clara was quickly promoted to begin the Ph.D. program. As a doctoral student, Clara continued her work, developing metallic nanoparticles that could detect hydrogen peroxide and pathogens like Escherichia coli.
When she had an opportunity to take on teaching responsibilities, Clara worked as part of an interdisciplinary team to create a new laboratory unit that would better demonstrate immediate and real-world applications for chemistry and biology. Working under a fellowship awarded by the GAANN program (Graduate Assistants in Areas of National Need), Clara collaborated with Dr. Donald Schreiber to develop a “food science” lab that would allow students to determine macromolecules present in food items. Using chemical reagents, students determined the amount of macromolecules such as carbohydrates, lipids, and sodium chloride in foods like chips, cheese, nuts, and turkey. While Dr. Schreiber laid the ground-work for the lab, Clara grew the idea, working out procedures for the tests and expanding their scope to go beyond their initial idea of testing for amounts of protein in tortilla chips! Thanks to the efforts of Clara and Dr. Schreiber, that innovative lab has been implemented into WMU’s undergraduate chemistry program.
Beyond this, Clara’s research in shape control of metallic (ruthenium and palladium) nanoparticles took her to national conferences, including her first oral presentation at the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia in 2012 (a conference that annually draws 30,000 professors, students, and practitioners), to international venues, such as the 2013 IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) conference in Istanbul, Turkey, where she presented her research in a poster session. She sees her future research going into the uses of shape-control for other metallic nanoparticles not extensively studied right now; she wants to do further research into using electrochemical sensors for detecting other bacteria, waste contaminants, and environmental pollutants. As Dr. Adams observes, “this area of research is crucial because nanotechnology is still relatively new, so there’s not much research into how nanoparticles affect the environment.” Clara is currently looking at post-doctoral positions where she can continue her work, and has even considered broadening her experience by starting research in cosmetic chemistry in the future.
Through all her success in research, teaching, and publication at WMU (she has four articles to her name, plus one in the works, as well as a book chapter!), Clara is effusive in her praise of Dr. Obare, for encouraging her to apply first to WMU, and then for numerous awards and funding opportunities. She thanks Mr. Tony Dennis and the GEP program, for providing countless opportunities for professional and academic development, as well as Linda Comrie of the Graduate College, for helping her through a labyrinth of funding rules and policies, and Dr. Marianne Di Pierro and the Graduate Center for Research and Retention, for their workshops on applying for grants and post-docs, which Clara says “are definitely needed and wanted!” Finally, Clara is every day thankful to God for giving her the strength to begin and continue this journey, and the blessings that have come to her along the way. We’re sure that her success has only begun, and wish her the best as she graduates with a Ph.D. from WMU this spring.
— Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, WMU Graduate College