July 22, 2022

William Dougherty, associate professor of chemistry, uses his lab to introduce interested undergraduates to fundamental, inorganic chemistry research providing students an opportunity to build the research skills they need to pursue their postgraduate goals — whether that’s entering the workforce or going on to graduate school.

Bill Dougherty, associate professor of chemistry Bill Dougherty, associate professor of chemistry“Summer research can be a formative experience,” Dougherty said. “It is a great testing ground for students to discover what they want to do, and sometimes more importantly, what they don’t want to do, after graduation.”

Dougherty and Logan Gunoskey ’24, a chemistry and Spanish double major, are using their time in the lab to create new organic molecules to determine how these molecules interact with certain transition metals. This research has implications across various industries. For example, many plastics are created through the interaction of small molecules with certain metal complexes. In many industrial processes, the metals used include platinum or palladium, which are both very expensive.

“We want to understand how these processes work, with the ultimate goal of finding molecules that will react with cheaper metals to lower the cost of industrial processes,” Dougherty explained.

Dougherty and his students use an array of research instruments housed in the chemistry department to confirm the identity of the molecules they create in the lab. Additionally, a collaboration with Clemson University gives them the opportunity to characterize their molecules via X-ray crystallography, which, when successful, results in 3D visualization of their molecules at the atomic level.

“At the undergraduate level, we’re always looking for projects that not only seek to answer important questions but also help students build their skills because at the end of the day, they’re going to sell those skills to an employer or graduate school,” Dougherty said.

Gunoskey’s first attempt at creating a novel molecule ultimately failed; he also experienced a steep learning curve in handling some of the equipment in the lab, all of which was frustrating but not defeating.

“That’s just part of research. There’s more error than success, so we move on,” Gunoskey said. “The bad days are so dramatically outweighed by the good things.”

Included in those “good things,” Gunoskey said, is the mentorship he is receiving from the chemistry faculty.

“They are so enthusiastic and kind. They’re such a pleasure to work with,” Gunoskey said. “This department is filled people who are passionate about what they’re doing.”

Though initially considering attending medical school with an eye on dermatology, Gunoskey said he is now considering entering the workforce after graduation to continue lab work.

“I love this. I totally love it,” he said. “The longer I’m here the more I think I’d be happy to work in a research lab studying the way the world works for a while.”