My research program has two distinct paths. In my research program we study structure-function relationships of new molecules, using X-ray crystallography. More simply, my students and I examine new molecules using a method that allows us to determine the lengths and angles between atoms in molecules, and also allows us to determine geometric relationships between molecules. This is important for possible applications of new molecules, for example, in drug design, energy storage, or for use as new electronics.
I was drawn to pursue this area of research because it is beautiful. When molecules pack in the solid state to form crystals, they (normally!) do so in a regularly repeating pattern. The associated symmetry is stunning. While understanding molecular geometry is essential to fundamental science, sometimes I feel that this work is more like art. I actually once gave a talk comparing my molecules to the work of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher.
My students and I are also involved in chemistry education research. Our understanding of how students learn, and what constitutes effective teaching, is constantly changing. Over the last two years my research assistants and I have been examining the role of learning interventions to help students master fundamental concepts in general chemistry. Working with students is the best part of my day. Their enthusiasm and questions motivate me to continue learning, which is why I was drawn in this research direction.
Most of my research is done by undergraduate researchers. I am regularly surprised, in a good way, by their insights and innovative ideas. I don’t know if I’m as creative as them anymore! Providing my students with direction, but allowing them the flexibility to explore other targets or approaches, has led to many new discoveries in both my research programs. This is part of why I love being a researcher at Laurier; the students I’ve worked with are really special.
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