Chem/Phys Liaison wins Honorable Mention award from ACS

The Simmons Chemistry and Physics Liaison recently received an Honorable Mention award for their activities in 2013. The American Chemical Society (ACS) reviews over 400 chapter groups on the basis of service, self-assessment of their impact, professional development activities, activities that develop the chapter, and their budget (how much they can do with the resources available). The Liaison will be recognized at the 249th ACS National Meeting in Denver, CO in March.

Congratulations to all of the Liaison members, and Dr. Changqing Chen, the group’s faculty advisor.


2014 Academic Achievements Awards

We recently honored several students in the Chemistry and Physics departments with academic awards celebrating their achievements. Seniors awards were presented at the Senior Faculty Banquet in Bartol Hall on April 25th, and underclasswoman awards were presented at the third annual department plaque unveiling ceremony on April 28th. This time of year is full of opportunities to recognize all of the hard work that our students have done. Congratulations to all of the award winners!

Emily Yasi

Allen Douglas Bliss Award:
Recognizes a senior whose academic achievements and promise in the field of chemistry are highest among her classmates specializing in this science

Rebecca Koelln, Vera Kirch, Sandy Lor, Shanell Mojta, Snow Naing, Emily Yasi, Susie Lu, Nina Chen, Deepa Kumarjiguda, Julie Pallozzi, Ida Bixho

Induction into Sigma Xi:
Recognizes students who have demonstrated overall excellence in scientific research and strong academic performance overall

Rebecca Koelln

Leonard J. Soltzberg Departmental Service Award:
Recognizes a student’s outstanding leadership and contribution to the life of the department, commemorating the more than 40 years of distinguished service and inspirational leadership of Leonard J. Soltzberg

Laura Squiccimara

The Chemical Rubber Company Press First-Year Chemistry Achievement Award:
Awarded to a first-year student who has shown outstanding scholastic achievement

Julie Pallozzi

POLYED Undergraduate Award in Organic Chemistry:
Recognizes outstanding performance in organic chemistry by a chemistry major whose future plans include a career in chemistry

Rebecca Koelln

The American Institute of Chemists Awards in Chemistry:
Recognizes a student’s demonstrated record of ability, indication of leadership, and professional promise in chemistry

Huda Razzack

American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry:
Established in 1967 by the ACS Division of Analytical Chemistry to encourage student interest in analytical chemistry and to recognize a student who displays an aptitude for a career in the field

Krina Patel

Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award:
Recognizes a student’s commitment to teaching as demonstrated by superior initiative and engagement with students, mastery of material and exceptional communication skills

SET in the City at Simmons

April is a busy time of year on campus. There’s always a flurry of activity as another academic year comes to a close. This past weekend (Apr 12), Simmons welcomed 32 high school students to campus as part of the 6th annual S.E.T. in the City event.

S.E.T. in the City is a program run by the Boston Area Girls STEM Collaborative, a group of academic, nonprofit, and museum organizations that are increasing the representation of women in the sciences. This year’s program was run by Cheryl Lavoie of the Simmons Chemistry department, and hosted a day-long career exploration event for a total of 150 high school girls at participating colleges in the area. Students attended a variety of activities, including science demos and lab tours, a career bazaar, lunch with women scientists and college students, a college/grad student panel, and a keynote address by a prominent woman scientist.

This year’s keynote address was given by Angela Belcher, who is head of the Biological Materials group at MIT. Her research focuses on using biological design principles to create new energy technologies. She is the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy and has presented two TED talks on her research, explaining how she uses viruses to make new nanoscale materials and to build better batteries.

This year’s S.E.T. in the City event was one of the largest ever – and students seemed more enthusiastic and engaged than in past years.  Thirteen Simmons volunteers, both faculty and Chemistry/Physics Liaison students, helped make the Simmons portion a success.  Twenty students turned “Trash into Treasure” with alumna Kris McDonough by converting PLA into an environmentally friendly cleaning product while twelve students had a great time competing for bragging rights in a bridge building challenge with Prof. Michael Jordan.

Simmons Green Chemistry Commitment Program recognized by Buckminster Fuller Institute

Simmons has a strong Green Chemistry program, championed since 2003 by professor (and current department chair) Richard Gurney. The program started out as an attempt to reduce the production and use of harmful chemicals in the laboratory for Simmons’ introductory organic chemistry course, which many students take as a requirement for their major. The program has now grown to include research-integrated labs and to span several semesters of coursework. In the research-integrated labs, students participate in cutting-edge green chemistry research and develop new, more environmentally friendly chemical syntheses rather than repeating “canned” experiments that have already been tested. This experience increases the relevance of student learning in the classroom, and prepares Simmons students to become leaders in the field of Green chemistry research after graduation.

Simmons developed and co-founded the Green Chemistry Commitment program with a group of 11 other colleges and universities from across the country that are dedicated to advancing knowledge of green chemistry.  The program launched in July 2013 and is sponsored by Beyond Benign, a non-profit organization led by Dr. John Warner and Dr. Amy Cannon to promote efforts to put Green chemistry principles into practice. Dr. Gurney continues to participate actively and serve on the advisory board for the program.

Recently, the Green Chemistry Commitment program has been selected as a semi-finalist for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, an international competition for socially responsible programs that address critical global needs.

Chemistry alum Kris McDonough receives Best Poster award at TECHCON

Last month, Simmons chemistry alum Kris McDonough (’13) and current senior Nina Chen presented their research on photosensitive polymers at TECHCON. Both students have been working in the GurLee lab, and their presentations focused on using green (environmentally friendly) polymers as photoresists in the semiconductor industry. The conference is hosted by the Semiconductor Research Corporation Education Alliance (SRCEA), and is meant to foster connections between academic researchers and industry leaders.

Kris’ poster won first place in the Undergraduate Poster competition, and was titled: Evaluation of the Photodimerization of 4-vinyl(benzyl) Thymine and 4-vinyl(benzyl) Trialkyl Ammonium Chloride Polymers and Copolymers Induced by Ultraviolet Light.

Kris TECHCON poster award

(That’s Kris on the right, in red)

Congratulations to Kris, Nina, and the Gurlee lab!

Welcome back!

It’s always exciting to start a new academic year. This year, we kicked off the semester with a department open house for the incoming first-year students on Tuesday, then welcomed incoming students and seniors back to campus at the college during Wednesday’s Convocation ceremonies. Department highlights from the ceremony include:

Professors Rich Gurney and Michael Berger were recognized for receiving external funding (grants) for their projects in Student-led Materials Science Research Relevant to the Semiconductor Industry/New Thymine-Based Bioinspired Polymeric Materials, and Colleges of the Fenway STEM Scholars, respectively. Professor Jennifer Canfield also received a grant for her project: Generating a Community for Undergraduate Research Through the Use of Comparative Microbial Genomics.

Senior Biochemistry student Vera Kirch Skyped into the ceremony from Prague to receive the Alumnae Award for Academic Achievement, a highly competitive award  presented to a student who is nominated by the faculty as showing outstanding academic ability.

Chemistry/Physics department students Arianna DeGruttola, Jossana Rasla, and Victoria Zappi were inducted into Academy – the Simmons College Honors Society.

Congratulations to all of the students and professors mentioned, and welcome back to all of you! With classes starting on Thursday and Friday of this week, we’re sure to bump into one another in the halls again sometime soon. Be sure to say hello!

Biochemistry Senior Vera Kirch wins a Gilman Scholarship for study abroad

Making contact with other disciplines and areas of inquiry is one of the most important benefits of a liberal arts education. At Simmons, we encourage our students to take advantage of the opportunities outside of lab as well as working on their core required courses. We were thrilled to hear recently that rising Biochemistry senior Vera Kirch had been awarded a Gilman International Scholarship for study abroad.

Since most science courses have to be taken in sequence, it can be harder for science students to find the time to study abroad, and Vera has been planning this project since freshman year to make room in her schedule for a whole semester without science courses. Instead, she will have an opportunity to focus on her love of history and culture in one of the prime cities in Europe. She writes:

 My choice to study in Prague was made first out of family connections: Czechoslovakia is where my mom grew up and I’d heard bits of the language and stories of her homeland for years. Rather than just vacation there, I feel drawn to really live there, especially as a student! Not only does the city have a rich medieval history, but Prague now represents a city of progressive economic and political transformation in a (relatively) recent post-Communist society that has made it a focal point of Europe. Its history has been heavily influenced by its Bohemian background in addition to its intellectual and artistic centers, and there is personally no other European city I would find as fascinating to live in for the semester.

The program I’m participating in is the CET Academic Program based in Prague, and I will be following a Central European Studies curriculum. Classes about nationalism in Central Europe, the cultural and intellectual history of Prague, Czech architecture, and of course the Czech language will be part of my semester. I’ll have the opportunity to take one of my classes at Charles University, the city’s largest and most multicultural college institution, which will give me exposure to students outside of my study abroad program. One elective option is a service-learning placement, which I will hopefully be using to gain volunteer experience at a local hospital. I’ll be living in an apartment, shared with other CET students as well as Czech students, which I consider to be the perfect blend between college life and a home-stay. There are numerous trips planned to locations within the Czech Republic, but I’m also thrilled to travel outside of the country for a week long travel seminar where I’ll have the opportunity to visit Moravia, Krakow, and Vienna with historians as guides!”

The Gilman Scholarship is very competitive, and Vera’s application was one of 800 accepted from a pool of more than 2800 applicants. As a pre-med student, Vera tied her application to the importance of  an international perspective in the field of medicine, and plans to bring her experiences back to the Simmons community next year.

 The Gilman Scholarship is given to students who are traveling to underrepresented countries and from backgrounds that are underrepresented in study abroad programs. In my application I focused heavily on the value of experiences abroad for science students, because it is very difficult to plan extended travel around such curricula, but it is also just as valuable for scientists as it is for poli-sci majors to get international exposure.

After graduation, I will be working towards my goal of attend medical school, where I hope to become trained as an M.D. and have a career in medical research. I hope that my experience abroad will further encourage me to think globally, and I hope to use my study of the social and political history of Central Europe to become more confident in my international capabilities as a scientist and future physician! The discoveries that are made in a medical research lab are meant to be shared, discussed, and transported worldwide. Communicating effectively in the international scientific community is necessary as scientific problems are more global than ever. Medical issues like the pandemic avian virus or HIV/AIDS strategies force international teams of scientists and physicians come together to solve problems that affect many countries. This communication requires interaction with an international audience, which is not an experience that all researchers have the opportunity to incorporate into their studies.

As a Gilman Scholar, I’m required to carry out a follow-on service project upon my return from Prague that helps to promote international education. I proposed an event in my application to take place next spring that will incorporate both perspectives of international clinical/research settings and also study abroad information/programs directed at science majors. I’ll be working with Laura Bey in the Study Abroad office, as well as the Pre-Health Liaison, Honors Liaison, and Colleges of the Fenway to make this proposal a reality.

Congratulations, Vera, and we look forward to hearing about your experiences in Prague!

Recent graduate Chau Vy talks about the interview process

Around this time of year, recently graduated seniors head off into the next stage of their careers, and younger students start new summer jobs, REUs, and internships, or debate about what they really want in the future. Everyone has questions about how to prepare for job interviews and what employers really want to see in a candidate. There is an overabundance of advice on the web about how to land the perfect job, but what does that mean for a Simmons graduate, just starting out? What are the chances of success, and what are employers really looking for in a candidate?

To find out, we interviewed Chau Vy, a recent Chemistry/Physics graduate who has just started a new job at Jordi Labs. Below, Chau generously shares some of the insights that she’s gained during this first experience on the job market as a college graduate.

1) a. How did you find out about the job opening/opportunity that you ended up taking, and (if you’re willing to share) b. how long were you looking many others did you apply for?

a. I found the job listing on, which I think gives very relevant search results as compared to other job search engines. Some other places I looked were:, the LinkedIn Jobs tab, the ACS Careers Tab (only works if you are a member I think), and direct websites of the companies I heard of from friends and professors.

b. I was looking for one week and waited another week before hearing back from an employer, so two weeks before I was given an interview opportunity.

c. I applied to roughly 30 positions and about 20 employers (some had more than one position I was qualified for).

2) What did you do to prepare for the interview?

Just as a warning, two places called me for preliminary phone interviews without any warning so as soon as you apply, be prepared to answer questions the next day. To prepare for the interviews, I looked up common interview questions and took notes on the most sensible answers. I practiced asking and answering these questions as well as other questions that I thought may be relevant. Dr. Lee warned me that I may be ask chemistry questions that are more technical so I reviewed the concepts and background behind all the techniques and instrumentation listed on my resume. Thank goodness I did because both the interviews I went on were basically like an oral exam for chemistry. I was even asked to draw organic synthesis mechanisms and reaction products. My best advice is to be prepared for both the Human Resources questions as well as the technical chemistry questions.

3) What one thing was most important/most helpful in your preparations?

Pretty much that Dr. Lee warned me about the technical questions because otherwise I would have been dumbfounded and probably not performed as well. Take this as your warning.

4) Could you describe the general interview process, and what you were asked to do?

This could be different depending on the scale of the company. For the smaller company, I was given a 20 minute phone interview that focused more on the human resources side of the job and general personality traits and then was asked to come in for an on-site interview which was more like an oral exam on my chemistry knowledge. There I spoke to two representatives, one senior scientists and one higher level business manager. For the larger company, I was given a preliminary 10 minute phone interview on general human resource questions, followed by a scheduled 30 minute phone interview that focused on the technical chemistry questions and then was given the opportunity for an on-site interview where I was asked to give a 30 minute presentation on my research and meet with 5 company representatives for 30 minutes each for questioning.

5) Do you have advice for other students getting ready to go out on the job market, especially about things that they can do to prepare while they’re still at Simmons?

There are a few things.
– If you put something down on your resume, be prepared to answer any relevant questions on it.
– Learn to use as many instruments as you can. Laboratory techniques are important as well if you are planning on entering the pharmaceutical/biotech world. I wish I had taken a couple extra biology courses just to get experience on biological techniques like running assays or growing cells. Many jobs asked not only for chemical techniques but also biological ones.
– Do your best to format your resume to fit one page. Leave out detailed descriptions. They’ll ask you for the details on the interview if they’re interested in knowing more. The title of your research and presentations will usually suffice. Employers told me they appreciated that I only put what’s relevant on there so they didn’t have to search through a long CV for things they were looking for.
– Like I said previously, be prepared for both the Human Resources questions as well as the technical chemistry questions.
– To re-iterate again because I think it’s pretty important: Two places called me for preliminary phone interviews without any warning so as soon as you apply, be prepared to answer questions the next day.
– Attitude really matters. Appear as enthusiastic as possible.
– Negotiate your pay. Employers can often understate what they ought to pay you to see if you’d settle for it or to leave room for negotiation. Ask for a higher number (specify it) and see what their reaction is. If they’ve already offered you the job, the worse that can happen is you get the original offer. If you succeed, you’ve just gotten yourself a few more grand a year. Happened to me.
– Life happens but it’s really best if you could answer employers’ calls the first time they call. Remember, you’re just one out of many qualified candidates so take reign of the opportunity.

6) What will you be doing in your new position?

I got hired as a Project Manager at Jordi Labs. The company is a two-fold business where one side deals with products including GPC columns and solid phase extraction cartridges and the other side provides analytical services that address failure analysis of all types of products, polymer analysis, product deformulation, comparative qual. and quant. studies, etc. My job will entail speaking with clients to determine their problem and needs, writing proposals that prescribe techniques to address them, and managing the analytical project from start to finish. The job will require me to learn and know about all of the 40+ analytical techniques that Jordi Labs offers as well as how different products are suited for different applications so that I can best prescribe the most likely to succeed techniques or products. In short, I like to think of myself as a problem solver for those with analytical problems with a focus in the realm of polymer science. I’m excited because the learning curve will be pretty steep for me.

Thanks, Chau, for these helpful insights into the job search process, which can sometimes be pretty intimidating. Best of luck in your new job!

Simmons Professor Jerry Bell (Emeritus) calls for public conversation on climate change

Professor Jerry Bell was a member of the Simmons chemistry department from 1967 until his retirement from the college in 1993 and department chair 1969-73. He was well known for his emphasis on hands-on learning and for teaching students through applied research rather than “cookbook” type lab experiments, an idea that has become central to Simmons’ approach to teaching. Professor Bell compiled several laboratory textbooks during his time at Simmons, including Chemical Explorations and An Introduction to Experimental Biochemistry: Experiments with a Nutritional Flavor. He also played a critical role in designing the Park Science Center, and championed the idea of establishing the independent study laboratory in S430.

Professor Bell teaching physical chemistry. Photo credit: Unknown

Professor Bell teaching a physical chemistry class.
Photo credit: Unknown

During leaves of absence and after “retiring” from Simmons, Professor Bell went on to help shape science education and policy through his work in positions of leadership at the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society (ACS) and now as a half-time faculty associate in chemistry with the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy. While at the ACS, Professor Bell served as chief editor for the textbook, Chemistry: A Project of the American Chemical Society. His contributions to chemical education were recognized by the ACS Northeastern Section with the James Flack Norris Award in 1992, by the ACS with the George C, Pimentel Award in 2000, and by a group of his colleagues with a symposium in his honor in 2011.

In 2011, he was appointed chair of the ACS presidential working group on climate science. This group was charged with creating self-guided learning materials to educate ACS members about climate change, and seeking ways to broadcast this information widely for maximum impact. The initial result, the ACS Climate Science Toolkit, was released to the public at the end of 2012. The April 5th (2013) issue of Science magazine has published an editorial  from Professor Bell and his co-author Professor Bassam Shakhashiri, calling all scientists to take advantage of these resources to prepare themselves to be leaders and spokespersons for climate science to the general public. The editorial quotes chemist F. Sherwood Rowland, who was the first to point out the link between human use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and depletion of the protective layer of stratospheric ozone, in asking:

“Isn’t it the responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?…If not us, who? If not now, when?”

If you’re a scientist (and even if you’re not), take some time to look over the Climate Science Toolkit and learn more about this important global issue and the roles that you can play in confronting it.

Alumna award: Jennifer Bento receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Simmons Alumna Jennifer Bento was recently awarded a 3-year NSF graduate fellowship to support her research in improving the design of water purification systems. Jennifer is in her second year of graduate school in the Polymer Program in the Institute of Materials Science at the University of Connecticut. She is working with Dr. Douglas Adamson to create polyamide membranes with unusual geometries for use in the desalination of water. These membranes have several advantages over current water purification technology, and promise to improve access to clean water supplies.

Jennifer pursued many activities during her time at Simmons. Some of these activities include: research/senior thesis, working as a lab TA in the chemistry department, and participating in outreach with the Beyond Benign program. She also participated in an external REU at the University of Connecticut. These things together gave her a strong foundation in science and communication, and prepared her to create a competitive research proposal early in her career. This prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship will cover Jennifer’s graduate tuition and research expenses for the next 3 years of her Ph.D. program.

Congratulations, Jennifer! We look forward to seeing the results of your research.