Senior wins regional chemistry award
RELEASED: Feb. 22, 2007
DANVILLE, KY—His aptitude for science may one day help power the planet, but for now it's brought Joe Yeager '07 a coveted regional science award—and an iPod Shuffle.
Yeager, a chemistry and math double major from Louisville, recently received an Undergraduate Research Presentation Award, one of just four given at the 2006 Southeast Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
He is the second Centre student in recent years to win a regional American Chemical Society undergraduate award. Brian Grieb '07, also of Louisville, won in 2004.
In addition to the iPod, Yeager received praise from the president of the American Chemical Society, who told him that the poster he created was the best she'd seen so far.
The poster explained work Yeager did with Centre chemistry professor Keith Dunn in the hot field of "surface chemistry." The two used laser spectroscopy to study the effects of ultraviolet light on carbon monoxide molecules on a film of salt molecules during the summer of 2005. This project was also part of Yeager's John C. Young honors research this year.
As Yeager explains, the earth's atmosphere contains tiny salt crystals picked up from the ocean that create a sort of surface for other molecules in the atmosphere. When UV light from the sun hits whatever molecule is on the salt surface, says Yeager, "interesting chemistry can happen."
"Weird stuff goes on, on the surfaces of objects, things that you wouldn't expect," he continues. "It's not that the surface is actually reacting with whatever is sticking on it. It's more like a platform for the reactions to happen."
This particular research was part of Dunn's on-going investigation of small molecules on salt surfaces. Yeager says that he hopes someday to work on solar cell technology.
He adds, "These are things that are going to have to be worked out in my lifetime in order to continue living the way we live."
Yeager says that he enjoys science and math because "everything works." Unlike literature, he points, where there can be many interpretations, math and science tend to follow identifiable rules and reach verifiable conclusions
"It shouldn't really matter how you look at a problem; if you do all the right things, you should end up in the same place," he says. "It's much more comforting to me to be in a situation where there's a right answer and it's just a question of how do we find it."
But that's not to say his fields are mere tools. He describes math in glowing terms as "deep and interesting," with "all kinds of nuances." It's "not just to balance your checkbook," he points out.
As for the future, Yeager plans to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry and then to teach. He's already been accepted by two top-10 chemistry programs (at the universities of Chicago and Wisconsin-Madison), but he’s also applied to a program to teach English in France for a year. He says he would like a short break from chemistry while still doing something academic. And he calls the term he spent in France with Centre’s program in Strasbourg one of the “best” things he’s done.Oh, and he's also enjoying his new iPod.
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