Skill Building in the Chemistry Lab – Susquehanna University


July 22, 2022

William Dougherty, Associate Professor of Chemistry, uses his lab to introduce interested undergraduate students to basic research in inorganic chemistry, providing students with the opportunity to develop the research skills they need to pursue their postgraduate goals, whether it’s entering the job market or pursuing higher education.

Bill Dougherty, Associate Professor of Chemistry“Summer research can be a formative experience,” Dougherty said. “It’s a great testing ground for students to find out what they want to do, and sometimes more importantly, what they don’t want to do, after graduation.”

Dougherty and Logan Gunoskey ’24, a double major in chemistry and Spanish, use their lab time to create new organic molecules to determine how those molecules interact with certain transition metals. This research has implications in various industries. For example, many plastics are created by the interaction of small molecules with certain metal complexes. In many industrial processes, the metals used include platinum or palladium, both of which are very expensive.

“We want to understand how these processes work, with the ultimate goal of finding molecules that will react with cheaper metals to reduce the cost of industrial processes,” Dougherty explained.

Dougherty and his students use a range of research instruments housed in the chemistry department to confirm the identity of the molecules they create in the lab. Additionally, a collaboration with Clemson University gives them the ability to characterize their molecules using X-ray crystallography, which, if successful, results in 3D visualization of their molecules at the atomic level.

“At the undergraduate level, we are always looking for projects that not only seek to answer important questions, but also help students develop their skills because, ultimately, they will sell these skills to an employer or to a graduate school,” Dougherty said.

Gunoskey’s first attempt to create a new molecule ultimately failed; he also experienced a steep learning curve in handling some lab equipment, which was frustrating but not in vain.

“It’s part of the research. There are more mistakes than successes, so we’re moving on,” Gunoskey said. “The bad days are so outweighed by the good things.”

Among those “good things,” Gunoskey said, is the mentorship he receives from the chemistry faculty.

“They are so enthusiastic and kind. It’s such a pleasure to work with them,” said Gunoskey. “This department is filled with people who are passionate about what they do.”

Although he originally planned to attend medical school with an eye on dermatology, Gunoskey said he now plans to enter the workforce after graduation to continue his lab work.

“I love it. I totally love it,” he said. “The longer I’m here, the happier I think I’d be working in a research lab studying how the world works for a while. time.”

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