Arresting colors and mysterious interactions of elements and atoms are part of the alchemy that captivates future scientists. “Colors, fire, cool stuff,” Jessie Brown remembers thinking as a junior in high school in Sonoma County, Ca., when she fell in love with chemistry. She was also intrigued by the precision and order in nature and how it seemed to work in a very systematic way.
Drawn to the blue-hued metal chemistry for her doctoral work, Brown pursued the radioactive world of f-elements for her postdoctoral research at Los Alamos National Laboratory. As her career advanced, so did her desire to teach and pass on scientific knowledge to the next generation. Arriving at Transy in 2015, Brown now combines research and teaching, producing all kinds of interesting results. Students help facilitate her research and then go on to devise their own projects.
“Transylvania provides a cohesive journey for students from when they first arrive until they graduate,” Brown explains. They gain a wide perspective and appreciation for different disciplines through the liberal arts, and instead of just a “cookbook approach,” students are encouraged to design and research their own projects. “They learn first-hand what to do when things don’t work and develop their own intuition through independent research. It builds grit,” she adds, “and fosters scientific thinking.”
Taped to her door are illustrations of the molecular structure of two crystals, the results of research conducted by two biochemistry majors. They took advantage of Transy’s new inert-atmosphere glove box that allows undergraduate research involving air- and water-sensitive materials.
“Our students have the ability to work closely with faculty on complex and applicable research projects,” Brown explains. “And they have unique opportunities, as undergraduates, to work with state-of-the-art scientific equipment.”
The two students not only presented work from their senior research projects at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition, but they also published their data in the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry as part of Brown’s article.
Brown points to their work as examples of the combined success of the chemistry program, the division of natural sciences and mathematics, and Transylvania University as a whole. “These experiences allow our students to gain crucial professional skills that help them succeed in their future endeavors and reach their maximum potential upon graduating.” She’s enjoying the process—a different kind of alchemy—that equips Pioneers for the next stage of their careers.