Department of Chemistry Profile

Chemistry major Alex Parent talks about how he has been involved in research throughout all his years at Clark.

Why did you decide to come to Clark?

Alex: I knew that I wanted to study science and came to Clark because of the excellent research opportunities available for undergraduates.

When did you get involved in research?

Alex: I first talked to Professor Turnbull about joining his research group in mid-September of my freshman year. What I did was I just asked Dr. Turnbull if he had any space in his lab and he said yes and that was it. All you really need to do is find a professor whose research you think would be interesting to work for and talk to them. There's no elaborate process. Everyone I know in the chemistry department has been involved in research at some point during their time at Clark.

What kind of research projects have you been working on? What's the focus of Professor Turnbull's lab?

Alex: In Dr. Turnbull's lab we work very closely with Dr. Landee in the physics department, and we're studying molecular magnets. Dr. Turnbull's lab focuses on synthesizing interesting molecules to be studied by Dr. Landee. Starting my freshman year, I began synthesizing a series of compounds using N-methylmorpholine and various metal halides. During the beginning of the summer of my sophomore year, I published a paper on that and it just came out early this year. Currently I'm working on making a new organic ligands to be used in the development of molecular magnets.

Most students don't realize how easy it is to begin research even very early in their career. It's something very important I think, because it looks so strong on a resume and it also gives you a lot more background so you know what you're getting into when you enter a lab for graduate studies or even just for labs for your classes.

My freshman year, when I started, I just did research on the weekend, maybe two or three hours a week. You'd be surprised what you can get done two or three hours a week in a year. My sophomore year was the same way, and over the summer after my sophomore year I was awarded a summer internship here at Clark to do research. That allowed me to research on a full-time basis over the summer for two months--ten weeks. That was followed up by another internship after my junior year. Starting my second semester junior year, I began research as a class so I've been getting credit for that. I'm currently working on my senior thesis. It involves the research I did my freshman, sophomore and junior years, in addition to the research I'm doing now.

I know that the chemistry department also has a Ph.D. program. Do you find that interacting with graduate students is helpful?

Alex: The graduate students are definitely an important presence in the lab. If they weren't there we wouldn't have as many instruments, and their presence in the lab allows the professors to pursue ongoing research. They are also exceptionally helpful in getting new group members acclimated to lab work: they know where most things are, and they can help you interpret data.

What do you think that you're getting by participating in research that you wouldn't get if you were just doing the standard progression of classes?

Alex: Research in the lab is almost completely different from class work. In research, there's no text book. You learn what you need to learn in a very real way. If you don't know how to make compound X, and you need some compound X, then you have to go look it up. You learn how to look things up. That might not be the case in class, where if you need to look something up, you have a textbook and it's in that book. You get to learn to use the science library and you learn a lot of the tools we have at Clark for finding information. It's very different, especially because you don't know what the results are, and neither does your professor.

Since you've been at Clark, have you done any internships or study abroad?

Alex: Yes. During the fall of my junior year, I went to Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City, Japan. Clark has the only Japanese language program in Worcester and I feel it's very important to learn multiple things from different cultures. Learning Japanese has taken up a large portion of my time that isn't devoted to chemistry.

Japan is a very interesting country. There many unique science journals written in Japanese, and, as a chemist, it's important to know about the research reported in these.