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Chemistry Professor, Seniors, and Alumni Participated in Florida Conference

Posted on Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dr. Helen Boylan, Westminster College associate professor of chemistry, and five Westminster seniors participated in the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) March 11-15 in Orlando.

Pittcon is one of the largest analytical chemistry conferences in the world with more than 15,000 attendees, hundreds of technical presentations, and nearly 1,000 exhibitors.

Chemistry major Ashley Blystone presented "Quantification of 4-ethylphenol in Belgian-Style Beers," research conducted under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Kennedy, assistant professor of chemistry.

Brettanomyces is a yeast used to brew certain styles of Belgian beers.  It produces 4-ethylphenol, a compound that can spoil wine but contributes to the overall flavor profile of the beer.  Blystone's research quantified the compound using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

Blystone is a daughter or Brian and Jessica Blystone of Ford City and a graduate of Ford City High School.

Biochemistry major Justin Jones presented "Trace Elements in Fingernails: Are Vegetarians at an Advantage?"  Boylan is his faculty adviser for the poster that was displayed in both the undergraduate session and the environmental analysis technical session.

The research focused on detecting differences in concentrations of selected trace materials in fingernail samples from vegetarians and non-vegetarians.  Jones used inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry to analyze samples and quantify the concentration in the fingernails and paired the data with answers from surveys completed by the participants.  The data was then grouped to determine differences among various groups, including gender, vitamin supplementation, and degree of vegetarianism.

"The conference was a very beneficial experience," Jones said.  "The week focused on research in all areas of chemistry by authors ranging from undergraduates to professors and independent companies.  Seeing all of it shows the enormity of work being done all over the world to continually improve each field, whether it's a small accomplishment or monumental paradigm shifts."

Jones is a son of Jeffrey and Norma Jones of Erie and a graduate of Fort Le Boeuf High School.

Chemistry major Merrissa Malcolm presented "Green Chemistry: The Analysis of Palladium Catalyzed Synthesis of Ethers" that was supervised by Dr. Timothy Sherwood, associate professor and chair of Westminster's Department of Chemistry.

Ethers are found in most cosmetics, waxes, and fats and the traditional process to make them is hazardous and wasteful.  Malcolm's research involved making ethers in a less wasteful and more cost-effective manner, making the reaction greener. 

"The conference was an amazing experience," Malcolm said.  "There was a great opportunity to network during the whole conference, but especially during the poster session."

Malcolm is a daughter of Stuart and Susan Malcolm of Freeport and a graduate of Freeport Area High School.

Chemistry major Zachary Smith presented "Measuring Band Gaps in Gratzel Solar Cell Lab," research that was advised by Dr. Larry Miller, associate professor of chemistry.

In this research, a Gratzel cell was made containing a titanium(IV) oxide semiconductor, a raspberry juice sensitizer, and an iodine solution electrolyte, following a procedure created by the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.  The cell was used to measure the band gap of the semiconductor, the energy gap that electrons must overcome to be injected from the sensitizer into the semiconductor.  The work was used to develop a laboratory experiment for a sophomore inorganic chemistry course to introduce concepts including solar energy, semiconductors, and band gaps.

Smith is a son of Joseph and Constance Smith of Bethel Park and a graduate of Bethel Park High School.

The Westminster chemistry students and senior biology major Caleb Smathers served as student aides at the conference.

Smathers is a son of William and Elizabeth Smathers of Punxsutawney and a graduate of Punxsutawney Area High School.

Boylan and a colleague from the University of North Florida arranged a workshop, "Mentoring in the Chemistry Hierarchy," as a tribute to the late Mitch Johnson, a beloved mentor and colleague.  As part of the workshop, Boylan presented "Coaching as a Tool for Mentors: Helping Colleagues Improve Performance."

Boylan also arranged a conferee networking session, "Making the Most out of Graduate School," that was facilitated by Westminster chemistry alumni Theresa Swanson '09, now in graduate school at Wake Forest University, and Ian Taylor '08, enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh graduate program.

Additional Westminster alumni participants were Callie Croushore '08, Andrew Davic '09, Brian Domanski '08, David Evanoff '01, Garth Patterson '96, and Justin Shearer '02.

Boylan, a Westminster alumna who joined the faculty in 2001, earned a Ph.D. from Duquesne University.

Contact Boylan at (724) 946-6293 or email for additional information on the research or the conference.

Jones and Malcolm received travel/presentation grants from Westminster's Drinko Center for Experiential Learning to attend the conference.

The Drinko Center for Experiential Learning was created to enrich undergraduate education at Westminster through advancing world-class teaching as well as by participating in collaborations that address community and regional needs including strengthening K-12 education.  The Undergraduate Research Initiative provides funding for students to conduct research and to present their research at regional and national conferences.  Visit the Drinko website for more information about the Drinko Center and its programs.

(L-r) Merrissa Malcolm, Caleb Smathers, Ashley Blystone, Justin Jones, Zach Smith, Dr. Helen Boylan