While you might not immediately associate Swarthmore, a 1600-person liberal arts college, with research opportunities, approximately 2/3 of our students have conducted research before graduating. This number is quite significant, and Swarthmore students are often at an advantage when it comes to research, as they are not competing with graduate students who conduct research on their path to achieve a doctorate degree. I interviewed Zac O’Dell, a member of the Class of 2020, about the research he is conducting this summer and about how he went about securing the research position.
PF: What is the research you are conducting on campus this summer?
ZO: I’m studying the dissolution rate of silver nanoparticles and how different concentrations of proteins affect this dissolution rate. This area of research is important because silver nanoparticles are used in a wide variety of consumer products, like sunscreen, whose popularity has been growing exponentially in the last few years. Products like sunscreen incorporate silver nanoparticles because of their antimicrobial property, but high levels of free silver ions in the blood are toxic. I’m specifically doing research in the Chemistry department, particularly in the field of analytical chemistry under Professor Kathryn Riley.
PF: What is your living situation over the summer?
ZO: So I’m living in the new PPR Apartments (NPPR) with five other students who are doing research on campus. Some of the students that I am living with are conducting research in the Chemistry department, others in the Psychology and Biology department. I split my suite with these five, and we share a common space, kitchen, and bathroom. We each have our own individual room in the suite, so the setup is awesome.
PF: How did you go about finding this research opportunity on campus, and do you think research opportunities are accessible to all students?
ZO: Swarthmore does a good job of informing their students of opportunities. I was e-mailed by the Chemistry department about research opportunities on campus after indicating that my intended major was Chemistry. There were then info sessions where you got to know the individual projects and then were able to apply to the individual projects that you were interested in most. In terms of accessibility, you definitely have to have a passion for research, but Swarthmore gives all of its students the same opportunity to access research.
PF: Can you talk a little more about your major and what it entails?
ZO: So I’m a Biochemistry major, which is a special major here at Swarthmore with requirements that span Chemistry and Biology courses. Most Biochemistry majors conduct research and write a thesis for their senior final project, but there are also other options if this doesn’t interest you.
PF: Why are you researching this topic?
ZO: I’m researching this because one, I really liked Professor Riley’s General Chemistry course during my freshmen fall, so I thought working with her would be a pleasure, and two, nanoparticles really captured my interest during the info sessions, and the Biochemistry aspect of working with proteins was an intriguing component of the project.
PF: What do you hope to do after college with a Biochemistry degree? Also, what are some other paths that Biochemistry majors explore after graduation?
ZO: The great thing about a Biochemistry degree is that there are a bunch of different paths one can take after graduation. A student can either go to med school, grad school, or pursue a career in a lab or elsewhere. That being said, I hope to attend graduate school and from there establish my own lab.