Senior Named 'Outstanding Student' for Work in Nuclear, Radiochemistry Program

Emily Kaufman

Emily Kaufman (left) holds her "Outstanding Student" award with Augustana's Dr. Jetty Duffy-Matzner, associate professor of chemistry.

Senior Emily Kaufman received the "Outstanding Student" award from the Brookhaven National Laboratory for her work during a six-week Summer School in Nuclear and Radiochemistry. The award was presented last month at the annual meeting for the National American Chemical Society, held in San Francisco, California.

We caught up with Kaufman to learn more about her experiences and her plans for the future.

Q. What was it like to receive this honor?

A. Receiving the award was very exciting and truly unexpected to me. When I left for the program last summer, I was very nervous about coming from a small liberal arts school and competing with kids who went to larger universities. However, the strength of my Augie education quickly became apparent as classes began. The rigor of my chemistry and physics classes prepared me well for the difficult program and I found that the diverse range of topics encountered in my classes at Augie had provided me with a strong foundation to approach a niche topic like nuclear chemistry. Additionally, we had to write two full lab reports a week, and I found that the writing skills I honed with my liberal arts education prepared me well for such an intense writing schedule.

Overall, I believe that this award is not necessarily an indication of ability on my part, but rather a reflection of the strength of Augie's physics and chemistry programs to prepare nationally competitive students.

Q. What kind of research have you participated in during your time at Augustana?

A. I've performed research in Dr. Jetty Duffy-Matzner's lab. My research utilized computational chemistry software to study problems with implications in synthetic organic chemistry.

Q. You are a double major in biochemistry and physics. What inspired you to pursue those majors?

A. I love this question because I think my journey to becoming a biochemistry/physics major is a unique one that emphasizes the strong, positive roles that Augie professors play in their students' lives. I applied to Augie as a biology major. During freshman registration, Dr. Mark Larson of the biology department helped me pick out my schedule and mentioned to me that I might consider biochemistry as a major. Although I hadn't considered biochemistry before, he managed to convince me that it was at least worth a shot and I switched my major. I am glad I did — that fall I took Dr. Duffy-Matzner's general chemistry course and I fell in love with chemistry. I am happy that I ended up going for the biochemistry major because my experience with chemistry, and the Augie chemistry department in particular, has been tremendously positive.

As a requirement for the chemistry major, I took general physics the following year. I did not take physics in high school and, at first, I found the subject difficult and frustrating. However, I was lucky to have a professor like Dr. Drew Alton who encouraged me to keep trying even when I got frustrated. By the end of the course, I began to see the many ways in which the field of physics informs the field of chemistry and I added a physics minor. Upper level classes not only gave me a chance to delve deeper into the subject, but gave me an opportunity to witness the passion the professors have for the subject and for assisting students. This experience sparked my own passion for the subject and I switched my physics minor to a physics major.

Q. Graduation is right around the corner. What's next for you?

A. This fall, I plan on attending UW-Madison to pursue a Ph.D in Chemistry. My area of emphasis will be physical chemistry.

Q. Can you tell us about your most influential professors during your time at Augustana?

A. This is difficult to answer because I have a great deal of respect for every professor and believe that every professor I've had has strengthened my education. I'll try to narrow the list a little: 

  • Dr. Arlen Viste is technically a professor emeritus (of chemistry) but no one has had a greater impact on my educational experience than Dr. Viste. The research I performed with Dr. Duffy utilized some quantum chemistry concepts that I was unfamiliar with. To help me with these difficult concepts, Dr. Viste selflessly donated time out of his day for two months to help me with my research and patiently teach me concepts that I did not understand. After research ended, Dr. Viste continued to encourage me in my education by loaning me books, offering me words of encouragement, and advising me in my academic decisions. If it weren't for Dr. Viste's kindness, patience, and encouragement, I doubt I would have ended up as the student I am today.
  • Dr. Duffy-Matzner served as my research adviser and helped me discover my love of the scientific process. During research, Dr. Duffy pushed me to achieve more than I thought I was ever capable of. Her passion and trust in my potential were critical in my development as a scientist.
  • Dr. Drew Alton (physics) has provided me with relentless encouragement and plenty of strong advice.
  • Dr. Andrew Klose (chemistry) has been extremely encouraging of my development as a physical chemist and was the person who initially recomended the Nuclear Chemistry Summer School to me. 

Kelly Sprecher
Director of Media Relations