Saturday, March 31, 2012


As I alluded to in my previous post, this summer I will be researching Metallacrowns at the University of Michigan. In this post, I will describe some of the things I will be doing in my 10 weeks in Ann Arbor. I apologize ahead of time if many of the things I am about to discuss are difficult to grasp. Unless you’ve taken a year of general, organic, and inorganic chemistry, much of the terminology/topics will be hard to grasp, but I’ll try to make up for this by adding a few visuals.
First of all Metallacrowns are inorganic analogues of crown ethers, which have –[C-C-O]n- repeating units. Metallacrowns introduce transition metals into the backbone and have –[M-N-O]n- repeating subunits, where M is a transition metal.
This field of chemistry was discovered accidently In 1989, the Pecoraro group was studying salicylhydroximate-vanadium complexes and found out that they accidently synthesized the first Metallacrown – they made something they weren’t expecting to! Here are a few examples of the structures of these molecules, which have been characterized using x-ray crystallography. 
Compared to their organic counterparts (cyclic ethers, macrocycles, cryptands, etc…) they are much easier to synthesize, are produced in high yields using common lab solvents (very cost effective!). The inclusion of transition metals also eliminates structural restrictions. New geometries such as octahedral (the classic geometry seen in coordination chemistry) and trigonal bipyramidal become accessible and allow one to build complex structures in two and three dimensions. 
All of this would be worthless unless Metallacrowns could be applied in practical ways. Currently, they’re being used as encapsulation and molecular recognition agents (think removal of heavy metals in lakes and streams), single molecule magnets, liquid crystals, and antibacterial compounds, to name a few. 
This summer I will be attempting to implement some previously made Metallacrowns into Rotaxanes, which are like a molecular ring and axle. We hope to incorporate these new molecules into molecular machines, drug delivery devices, and stimuli responsive materials.
I’ll also be introduced to many new instrumental and analytical techniques that aren’t available at Drake, including: electrospray mass spectrometry, 1H NMR, and x-ray diffraction/crystallography. It’ll be an exciting 10 weeks to discover if a career in research and pursuing graduate school is right for me!

This Metallacrown has encapsulated a Lanthanide ion

A 3-D complex with three encapsulated metals

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Summer in Ann Arbor!

    It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my research experience for undergraduates (REU) search. Ultimately I applied to five different programs (Colorado State, Graz University of Technology (Austria), Michigan, Penn State, and Syracuse). About three weeks ago I received my first offer from Penn State, and then several days later I received an offer from Michigan and accepted it the next day! This means that I’ll be a part of the chemistry REU from May 30 – August 7 this summer. There were several observations I took away from the application process.

1.    The funding for science has gone down the drain! It used to be the case that getting an REU wasn’t too hard to do. Now, each program has become ultra-competitive (over 400 applications for 5 spots for the Graz experience, 350 applications for 15 spots at Michigan). All this does is inhibit and discourage the future innovators of tomorrow. These REU programs are meant to instill excitement and purpose for America’s future, and with the budget cuts, many of our country’s future pioneers will not get to experience the thrills of working in the lab first hand. Syracuse and Austria, programs that have excellent reputations and that had received funding for 25 consecutive years, did not receive aide this year. I was also planning on applying to Georgetown, which was not supported either.

2.    God works in cool ways! When I first found out that I was accepted to Penn State, I was just about to start writing a four-page abstract to apply for a research job at Drake over the summer, as a backup plan in case I was not admitted to any programs. I was back home in Minneapolis for the weekend to see my (twin) sister ride in her last collegiate equestrian meet (she goes to the University of Minnesota Crookston), and by being accepted on the spot, it meant I got to spend more time with my family that weekend, instead of drafting a proposal.

When I was offered positions at Penn State and Michigan, I had to accept or decline the offers within a week, or else they would extend the invitation to someone else. These two schools both have highly ranked graduate programs, and I believe now, would be the best places for me to see if it is in the Lord’s will for me to pursue an advanced degree. Ultimately, my 10 weeks in Ann Arbor will be essentially 10 weeks of graduate school while I’m an undergraduate – straight research!

I found out this past week that I was also accepted to programs at CSU and Graz, but can see the Lord’s greater purpose in this. A summer in the Rockies (altitude training) or adventures in the Alps would be awesome, but ultimately, Michigan will most clearly depict the accurate experience of a graduate student in the U.S. When I received these offers, I had to decline because I was already locked in with Michigan, and I feel that’s the perfect place for me to be.

3.    Drake rocks! I know I certainly would not be in the position I am in without all the help and support I get from my professors and others at Drake! The odds of getting into many of these programs are slim by the numbers, but the fact that I (and students older than me in the past) have been/will be able to participate in experiences like this reflect tremendously on Drake. I can’t thank my chemistry professors Dr. Bohorquez, Dr. Cairns, and Dr. Vitha enough for all of the wisdom and assistance they’ve given me in this process. They helped me secure an awesome, all expenses paid study-abroad experience in Madrid last summer (which is why I have this blog), and have now helped me obtain another great opportunity! I can’t forget to mention my parents who helped me out a ton too!

    In my time at Michigan, I will be working for Dr. Vincent Pecoraro on his Metallacrown project (I actually gave a 25 minute presentation on Metallacrowns last month for my Junior Seminar course). I’ll be in the lab anywhere from 40-60 hours/week (like grad school) and will also get to participate in some sweet extracurricular activities. I’m really excited to meet some new people, there are 14 others from around the U.S. who will be there, as well as about 25 others from an exchange program with a school in Beijing – that’s not to mention the other graduate students, post docs, and professors I’ll come into contact with!
    The Michigan program also appealed to me because I knew there was some sweet fellowship I could get involved with over the summer at New Life Church! It’s very similar to the church I attend now, and I look forward to this as well. This is all exciting to me, but I can’t forget that in the meantime I’ve still got seven more weeks of my junior year to finish off! There are a lot of cool things coming up, it’s going to be a fun ride, I’ll keep you updated!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring Break and Running out of Time

    Spring break is here! This is certainly one of the best times of the year in my opinion because it gives me an opportunity to take a short break from the semester, allowing me to recharge and finish the year out strong. It’s also a sweet opportunity to hang out and spend time with family and friends!
    So far much of the break has consisted of relaxation! I’ve been able to kick back (not use an alarm clock!) and just enjoy life at home without having to worry about any upcoming assignments nor tests. Over the weekend, I was able to get a nice run in with my friend Kyle before he headed back to school yesterday, and I’ve also spent some time with my sister Melanie, who returned to school yesterday as well. In my spare time, I’ve been keeping tabs on the NCAA tournament (March Madness!) and have been able to read some good books.
    The outdoor track season is only weeks away, and within the past two weeks I have resumed running moderately without pain! I’ve only built up to 30 minutes so far, but yesterday I did my first tempo run (15:00 @ 5:30/mi), which wasn’t too hard, so I’m encouraged that I may be able run some personal bests this year. One thing I don’t get to do too often in Des Moines is go biking. I love going out for a long relaxing ride, and am blessed to live in the most “bike-friendly” city in the U.S.! I got a nice two-hour ride in this morning, and plan to bike out to my hometown Chanhassen later this week and go for a nice ride with my dad on the weekend.
    One of the most enjoyable parts of watching college basketball is witnessing how teams respond when their seasons are on the brink. Often times, teams will play like they’re sleepwalking the first 35:00, and then in the last 5:00 realize, “Oh crap, if we don’t start going bonkers right now, our season might be over”. This leads to some epic comeback and exciting finishes, but you wonder if a team would even need to be in that position if they had been playing with a similar kind of intensity and effort from the start of the game.
    Too often we can do that with life too. We drift through life aimlessly, without purpose, and then when we realize that a chapter in our life is coming to an end – or life itself is coming to an end we react out of instinct because we innately don’t want to “waste our lives” and let them slip away.
    One of the books I’m reading right now, Tuesdays with Morrie, is about a professor who learns he has ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and has to accept the hard truth that he only has a year or less to live. His response to his circumstance is encouraging, and should serve as a guideline for how we ought to view each day of our lives: “Do I whither up and disappear, or do I make the best of my time left?” (P.10)
    Whether we realize it or not, all of us our like Morrie – each day we are one day closer to our death (I’m also thankful I’m one day closer to seeing Jesus!). We can allow life to slip away, or we can live with gratitude and purpose for the lives we’ve been given.
    Thinking about this, I remember a music video I saw in high school, which was very sobering (check it out below). I don’t particularly like Nickelback nor the song Savin’ Me, but the film is intriguing. Often times we believe that we’ll live until we’re 70-80, and then pass away, and everything will be all-good. The reality is that each of us has tiny little clocks above our heads (like the video), that will eventually expire. We assume the clocks have plenty of time remaining, and can often cruise through life with a laissez-faire attitude, but we don’t know for certain. I would like to think my clock has 75+ years remaining on it, but only God knows for certain.
We can begin each day, living with intensity, passion and purpose, like the team that’s down by 5 points with 1:00 left, knowing that their season is on the brink, or we can just allow life to slip away. That’s the beauty of choices; thinking about this inspires me to not waste my remaining time at home or at Drake. Before I know it, the clock will hit zero.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Up-Up-and Away-Ward

The past eight weeks or so, I’ve had the privilege of helping out with a sports ministry league of basketball and cheerleading called Upward, through the church I attend here in Des Moines, Walnut Creek. This year I’ve coached one of the 7th/8th grade boys teams with two of my friends here at Drake. We’re the Sycamores. Each week we have a basketball practice on Monday followed by a game on Friday or Saturday. We had our second to last game this past weekend, and will have our last practice tomorrow. I’m bummed that I won’t be able to make our last game because Drake students will be on spring break (I’ll be home in MPLS!).
This season has been fun, and vastly different from my experience last year where I helped coach 1st/2nd graders. Each age level presents its own challenges and unique opportunities, but I’d say for the most part, I have enjoyed coaching the older kids more.  
I grew up playing basketball competitively from 5th grade up through my junior year of high school (when I quit to start running!). You could say that basketball was my first love. Some of my best childhood memories include times where I would spend the weekend playing in basketball tournaments all throughout the Twin Cities metro. It was a blast!
Upward provides an opportunity to combine two of the things I love – God and sports! I’ve really enjoyed working with the older kids this year, teaching them techniques in regards to proper shooting form, ball handling, passing, etc... We’re also able to design plays and run offenses that are too complex for the 1st/2nd grade level.
Each week at practice, we go through a devotional, centered on a specific verse from the Bible. It’s been encouraging to know that we are helping young men become better at basketball, and at the same time inspiring them to pursue a relationship with Jesus. On our team, if a player successfully memorizes one of our Bible verses, they’ll receive a green star that they can iron onto their jersey or undershirt. This year we’ve given away a lot of green stars!
One of the most heartening experiences of Upward actually came this morning at church. I ran into a player from my 1st/2nd grade team last year and his mother at church. At each basketball game, there is a devotional at halftime, and the Gospel is presented and shared throughout the season. It was really cool to see how God has worked through sports to bring members of the community to church, and ultimately to Him! Everything we do can be a spiritual act of worship for the Lord! 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God!”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bringing It All Together

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my advanced physical chemistry class this semester has been employing the knowledge learned in my math classes. After I graduate next spring, I will have degrees in math and chemistry, however I don’t plan to directly utilize my math degree. However, for the first time this semester, I am starting to see that a firm background in math will serve me well in the future.
Right now in my chemistry class we are studying quantum mechanics. From what we’ve learned so far, everything essentially comes down to solving the wave function, which is a mathematical expression that is used in order to predict where an electron may be at any instantaneous moment. The wave function is defined by (x), which is a second-order, linear differential equation:

I was really excited to apply my knowledge from Applied Differential Equations I, a course I took last semester (I’m currently enrolled in the second semester). One of the best aspects of this chemistry class is the size – it’s one other student, my professor, Dr. Bohorquez and me!
A few weeks ago, Dr. Bohorquez actually turned the tables on me. She knows that I am also a math major, and decided to let me teach the class (Kyle) how to solve the wave function. It was a fun class, and after an hour, Kyle knew how to solve some basic differential equations!
As we’ve progressed through the course material, we’ve come across other situations where advanced integration and substitution techniques need to be utilized in order to evaluate an integral or solve an equation. Essentially this chemistry class has been transformed into a math class for the time being!
Once the wave function has been solved, the mathematical solutions can be graphed in three dimensions to provide a visual model for the probability of finding an electron. The funky shapes of the orbitals are all expressed through mathematical formulas. Check them out below!