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Chemistry students step into the spotlight

By Catherine Monson '12
March 8, 2012

"The fact that four posters prepared by St. Olaf students were accepted for presentation at PittCon is fantastic," says Associate Professor of Chemistry Doug Beussman '92, who worked with seniors (l–r) Aaron Chamberlain, Brooke Reaser, Rob Pieh, Britta Anderson, and Jason Eckmann.

Although St. Olaf students often get the chance to display their work for professors and students, few find themselves presenting to hundreds of graduate students, Ph.D.s, and professionals in their field of interest. But five seniors will have exactly that opportunity when they travel to Orlando, Florida, for PittCon — the largest annual analytical chemistry conference in the world.

The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy draws more than 17,000 people from 90 countries to present their latest findings and connect with other chemists, academics, and professionals.

"The fact that four posters prepared by St. Olaf students were accepted for presentation at PittCon is fantastic," says Associate Professor of Chemistry Doug Beussman '92, who worked with the students to submit research abstracts. "This is the largest number of students and projects we've ever brought to the conference."

Last summer Beussman worked with all five students on their research projects, three of which dealt with forensic science — Beussman's main area of interest. Jason Eckmann analyzed fibers that could be used as crime scene evidence, Britta Anderson studied date-rape drugs in beverage residues, and Brooke Reaser's project dealt with laboratory methods of human scent differentiation to mimic that of body search dogs. The fourth project, conducted by Aaron Chamberlain and Rob Pieh, examined the various proteins of a single-celled organism called a Tetrahymena thermophila. Each of these projects has been invited to present at the main poster session, a peer-reviewed, day-long event separate from the undergraduate poster session.

Adrenaline rush
"Presenting to professionals and graduates in the field presents a unique opportunity that is both exhilarating and nerve-racking," says Reaser. "It will be a two-hour rush of adrenaline to talk about the research I conducted with people who are equally fascinated by the field. We're all nervous, but Professor Beussman did a wonderful job of preparing us for this experience."

In addition to presenting their posters, the students will attend symposiums and oral presentations about a variety of topics. At the Employment Bureau, they will be able to submit their resumes for a variety of jobs. In addition, the students as well as Beussman are excited to view the newest laboratory equipment from the more than 930 vendors at an instrument exhibition.

"Four of these five students took an instrumental analysis course, which is the advanced analytical course at St. Olaf," says Beussman. "In the class we talked about a whole host of instruments, some of which we have here at St. Olaf and many which we don't. So this will be a good opportunity for them to go and actually see these instruments and talk to people who make them."

Britta Anderson says she is honored to be presenting at this conference. "It will be a great learning experience to be able to talk with professionals in the field from all over the world," she says. "And as a senior moving onto the job market, this is also a great networking opportunity."

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or