Monday, July 30, 2012

Busyness - A Blessing or Curse?

    I recently came across this article in the NY Times (in my opinion, the best news paper out there), which was simultaneously thought provoking and a slap across the face.
    Like many other college students and Americans, often I blurt out “BUSY!” when someone asks me how I’m doing or how my day is going. The past year I’ve learned that business can take it’s toll. At the past two semesters have been completely draining, by the time finals finished up, I basically spent the rest of the next week lying low in bed at home, exhausted from the toll of academics, track/cross country, chemistry club, campus fellowship, and other activities. Often during my rest week (which really is a rest week, no running!) I wonder why I continue to trudge through it all. A lot of times it seems that everything is flying by so fast that I’m not able to take any of it in. Ferris Bueller said it best: Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
    So often we’re caught up with the end goals of things (final grades, running goals, etc…) we forget to take in everything else and soak up the journey! Business often overwhelms me, but it also gives me joy. I don’t see it as a burden at all. There’s so many great opportunities and activities to explore in college and time is so limited. The problem I have is choosing, I want to do it all. Although I am often running from one thing to the next (figuratively and literally), I’m happy through all of it. For me it’s going from one thing I love to another. In order to “stop and look around once in a while”, I enjoy journaling. Honestly, before I came to college I viewed it as an activity that only “girls did”, but I’m so glad that I’ve gotten into a consistent pattern. I primarily use it to log my spiritual journey with the Lord and also write down other note worthy items or interests in my life at the time. It’s really cool to look back on how I’ve my perspectives and outlooks on all different facets of life have changed throughout my time at Drake.
    One of the greatest experiences over the past two summers has been attending the Altitude Project, a Christian running camp in Mammoth Lakes, CA. It’s a bit of a bummer this year, the camp is just entering it’s second week, and unfortunately I won’t be able to make it back because I’ve been working in Ann Arbor (which has also been a blessing). Looking back, a few key points of what I learned, routes I ran, people I met, and sights I saw stand out, but there was so much more to those trips than my memory can tell. Thankfully I was consistent in journaling each day, and have been encouraged, reminded, and delighted on all the little memories I jotted down. Journaling in a sense is one of the ways I’ve been sure that I “don’t miss it”.
    My time here in Ann Arbor has been relatively “un-busy”. Besides work and running, my days are relatively un-occupied, and I’ve enjoyed reading, watching movies, and a lot of other things I enjoy but don’t often have lots of time to devote to. It’s been a nice change of pace, but I can’t wait to get back to home and then Drake to get involved and reunited with the people, places, and activities that bring me joy!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Synthesis of Chiral Zinc Metallacrowns for Applications in Second Generation Harmonics

Here's a copy of the abstract I just submitted for the research symposium that will occur at the University of Notre Dame two weeks from today. Now I need to create my poster!

       Second harmonic generation (SHG) occurs when two photons of a specific energy are combined to form a new photon with twice the energy. Applications in opto-electronics and photonics that utilize SHG properties have traditionally been implemented in simple inorganic crystals such as potassium dihydrogenphosphate (KDP) most effectively. Recently, organic chromophores have exhibited higher and faster nonlinearities compared to inorganic crystals. The SHG properties of organic chromophores can be custom-tailored for a desired application because of the versatility of organic synthesis. Metallacrowns are inorganic analogues of crown ethers that assemble from hydroxamic acids and metals. By incorporating three or more metals into a dense ring structure, metallacrowns often exhibit unique single-molecule magnetism and luminescence properties. Metallacrowns can be used in conjunction with organic chromophores to develop novel SHG material. Engineering a crystalline material that exploits the SHG capabilities of organic chromophores has three main requirements: the crystalline structure must be non-centrosymmetric, it must arrange the chromophores such that their dipole moments are aligned parallel, and the material should be colorless so it will not absorb the frequency doubled light in the visible region. Chiral metallacrowns have been shown to form cavities that sequester and properly align organic chromophores in a non-centrosymmetric environment. Previously, a Ln(III)[15-metallacrownCu(II), pheHA-5] complex with the SHG chromophore isonicotinate exhibited modest SHG behavior. The intensity was much weaker than KDP, presumably because the crystalline blue powder absorbed much of the generated green light. Performance is likely to be increased by forming chiral metallacrowns containing zinc, which will be colorless in the visible region. This project aims to develop new chiral 12-metallacrown-4 zinc complexes using the hydroxamic acids (s)--phenylalanine and (s)--homophenylalanine. Electrospray mass spectrometry has shown that the metallacrown [12-MC-Zn(II), -pheHA-4] readily assembles in a variety of solvents. Colorless crystals of this metallacrown have been grown by diffusing a solution of pyradine with ethyl acetate. Efforts to isolate this material, optimization of the ligand synthesis, and metallacrowns with SHG chromophores for the development of SHG materials will be discussed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Home Stretch

    It’s starting to hit me that things here in AA are starting to wind down. This week, I will need to submit an abstract for a poster session we will attend at Notre Dame the last week we are here, and this Friday I am giving the “major talk” in my group’s weekly meeting, which will summarize everything I’ve done so far.
    Yesterday we had a going away party for our visiting Italian professor, Matteo. He’s not leaving for another ten days or so, but he’s really into a local band called the Killer Flamingos and they preformed at a local club last night. He specifically “wanted to see us dance”, so we put on a good show for him. Overall, it was a good time!
    I’ll have my abstract finished up in the next few days, I’ll post it once it’s done and submitted. I’m about ¾ of the way done here, things are wrapping up. This has been one of the tougher experiences of my life for a variety of reasons, I’m certainly looking forward to returning home soon, but at the same time I’m really thankful for how much I’ve been learning about research and myself in my time here.

Monday, July 9, 2012


    There’s been a lot of working this summer so far, but it’s been nice to sprinkle in some fun times as well, and explore a city and state that I’ve never been to before. Overall, the University of Michigan has a beautiful campus, and Ann Arbor is quite the charming town. There’s too much to talk about, but I’ll give a few highlights from my time here so far:

Cedar Point
    A fantastic amusement park in Sandusky, OH, all of us REU students got to spend a full day soaking in the awesome rollercoasters and thrill rides the second week we were here. One of the best parts was just getting to know each other a whole lot more. During the week, most of us work anywhere from 8:00AM-9:00PM, so there’s not a whole lot of time for socialization (plus we’re dead tired after a long day in the lab), so it was fun getting to talk and hangout all day together. Cedar Point’s famous for a lot of it’s unique roller coasters. My favorite was definitely the Top Thrill Dragster! The ride only lasts 17 sec. but the hour or so wait was definitely worth it! It begins by accelerating from 0-120 mph in less than four seconds! The second time around, my roommate Matt and I waited for the front seat (this is what it looked like through my eyes). We could literally feel our cheeks being pulled back, it was beautiful!

Farmer’s Market
    Ann Arbor’s got a great farmers market, which certainly did not disappoint. I bought possibly the best cinnamon role I’ve ever had, and will certainly be returning soon.
No caption necessary

Fourth of July at Comerica Park!
    To celebrate America’s birthday, five of us decide to attend the Detroit Tiger’s game. I’m a big baseball fan, and besides the activities planned for us through the REU program, this was the one thing I really wanted to do in my time here. The day was quite the adventure, we arrived at the park just before a monsoon swept in and delayed the game 2.5 hours. Luckily things cooled down quite a bit after the storm passed (went from 101 to 75 degrees!) and we were able to snag some great seats in the upper deck. The ballpark was beautiful and fun to see, and to top off the night, we got to see a great fireworks show from the outfield after the game. It was another sweet opportunity to get to know the other guys and gals in the program some more too.
With friends, right before the monsoon arived.

Our fantastic seats!

Fireworks. Unfortunately a day late (the game ended at 12:30), but nonetheless spectacular!

Henry Ford Museum and Greenwich Village
    This past weekend, our program got check out the historic Greenwhich village and the Henry Ford Museum. I grew up loving cars (and still do), so it was awesome to see and learn about the evolution of the automobile. The place is filled with tons of items of other historical significance including: the chair Lincoln was assassinated in, the car JFK was shot in, and the bus Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. It’s cool to see all the physical historical evidence that I grew up learning about in textbooks first hand. Greenwich village accurately portrays what life and industry was like early in America’s history. We got to see what printing, pottery, tin-making, knitting, and even baseball was like long ago. It’s amazing how technology has transformed our society and how much easier things are today.

Thomas Edison's chemistry lab. This was a big hit with our group!

The president's official vehicle

The bus that helped spark the Civil Rights Movement

I assembled a Model-T!

1860s baseball, America's pastime

The Annual Pecoraro Group Christmas in July Party
    During the holidays, almost everyone in my lab travels home for the holidays (which is really nice compared to some other labs, where you have to stay and work), so there’s an annual x-mas party every year in July, when everyone’s around. The party is held at our principal investigator, Vince’s house, which is amazing. He’s an art lover, and has paintings on just about every single wall. He gave me the entire tour, and has a fantastic collection, which includes original works from masters such as DalĂ­, Miro, and more!
    After a few hours of socializing, it was time for the feast! Everyone made and brought a dish to share, there was so much good food. About half of our lab members are from overseas, so there was so much new, delicious food to try. I overate, everything was so good.
    The night climaxes in the annual secret santa gift exchange. There’s a $5 limit on each gift, and there were a lot of funny gag gifts. I ended up coming home with a pretty sweet hot cocoa set. Nothing better in the middle of July than some nice, hot chocolate! We ended the night playing an intense game of Apples to Apples. It was a great time!

Matteo, a visiting professor from Italy, and the naughty Italian-English translation book he gifted

I was a big winner! Cocoa time!

    The fun has not ceased yet, many more cool things await in the rest of my stay here, it’s been a blast so far!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” – C.S. Lewis

    Tuesday marks the halfway point for my REU experience in Ann Arbor, and one of the most important lessons I’ve been learning so far regards to living, working, and acting with integrity. Doing “the right thing” has something I’ve always firmly believed in, and is easy to implement in situations that are black and white. For example, it’s easy to wonder if you’re doing the right thing if you’re thinking about stealing a shirt from a department store. It’s wrong. Case closed.
    I’ve been learning a lot about integrity here at the University of Michigan in my job. As a researcher in the Pecoraro Lab, the guidelines and expectations for me aren’t clear-cut, there’s a lot of gray area. Unlike most jobs that have specific tasks or hours one must work in order to receive their paycheck, mine has no measures in place to ensure that I’m properly doing my job. I haven’t been specified a specific amount of time I’m supposed to be working each week, nor are the expectations of the work on my project high – we’re not expecting any long-term publications or breakthroughs to result directly from my work. This is mostly due to the nature of research (after all, 95% of the things you do will fail) and because of the very short time frame (I feel like I’m just starting to get well adjusted and familiarized to everything in the lab now, and my time here is now halfway gone).
    With these factors in place, it’d be really easy to blow off my job and just coast through the next five weeks. I could potentially try to rationalize based off the requirements and expectations that have been laid out for me. But I won’t.
    I’ve been so blessed to take part in this experience. I’ve been able to learn so much about myself and my career aspirations through this journey. On top of that, the University has provided us all with a generous stipend, housing, airfare, and cool activities (three weeks ago we went to Cedar Point, next week we’re going to the Henry Ford Museum). With all that’s been given to me, I owe it to the University, the National Science Foundation (who provides the funding), my Principal Investigator (Vince Pecoraro), and God to work and try my hardest while I’m here.
    A quote that has often provided motivation for me through my school work and running career is this: “Other people may not have high expectations for me, but I have high expectations for myself”. And so does God. God receives glory through us when we try our best and make the most out of our God-give talents and abilities, regardless of our circumstances.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17

    Although the research I’m conducting now will not be the career path I pursue, I’ll continue to push on and try my best in spite of my like/dislike for this type of work. The finish line is in sight, and even though I won’t be held accountable for the amount of time and effort I put into my project, I’ll continue to give it my all. Through this experience I’ll keep growing into the man God wants me to be, a man of integrity.