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Seniors research solar energy alternatives with chemistry professor

May 20, 2019

KOKOMO, Ind. – Anyone can memorize a chemical formula long enough to pass a test.

If you can apply it in a real laboratory, you’ve learned it.

Recent Indiana University Kokomo graduates Anthony Jeffers and Jordan Wenger are confident in what they’ve learned while earning their degrees after both put it in practice researching with Kasem Kasem, professor of chemistry. 

“It’s not about memorizing, it’s about doing,” said Jeffers, who earned his degree in chemistry. “Dr. Kasem preaches a hands-on approach, and that’s truly helped my learning. Knowing that you can do what you learned makes you more appealing to employers and graduate schools.”

Wenger, who completed a biochemistry degree, said because of the research experience she became more comfortable talking to professors and asking questions.

“It’s not as intimidating to talk to someone who has a Ph.D. in your field when you’ve worked alongside someone like that in the lab,” she said. “Working in a lab can be nerve-wracking at first, but being in there with a professor of chemistry looking over your shoulder makes you more comfortable working with the solutions and equipment.”

Each of them spent about a year completing research in the field of solar energy with Kasem, looking for an organic replacement for silicon-based solar panels.

Jeffers said organic compounds have less environmental impact that silicon, and are cheaper and simpler to produce.

Both published papers with Kasem, and presented their work at the IU Undergraduate Research Conference.

Wenger recently visited a graduate school lab, and said the students and faculty were impressed with her research opportunity.

“I was told that having a paper published as an undergraduate is really a step up, and helps you stand out when you apply for graduate school, vet school, medical schools, whatever you want to do after graduation,” she said, adding that she wants to work in the pharmaceutical field after earning a master’s degree.

Skills learned in lab research benefit them outside the lab as well, Jeffers said, adding that the computer and data analysis skills he learned from research gave him an advantage in a recent internship at Haynes International — especially in using Excel.

“Almost every program out there is compatible with Excel,” he said. “That makes data analysis so much simpler, and employers thoroughly enjoy you having those skills. It was found I could do things much more quickly because I knew how to use those computer skills. I hadn’t had those skills before working with Dr. Kasem.” 

As part of his internship, he wrote an instruction manual on how to publish reports and simplify reporting methods, based on what he learned researching.

 “You earn a skill set that some individuals don’t have, and it makes you more marketable,” he said. “The nice thing about chemistry is you can apply it to about anything, and there are multiple specialties you can dive into.”

Lab research helped Wenger become a more confident student.

“I had been a very meek person, and this made me interact with more people,” she said. “As I had success with the research, I was less intimidated by talking to people.”

She also appreciated the mentoring she received from Kasem.

“If I had a question in one of my classes, even outside of chemistry, I could ask him, and he could help,” she said, adding that his door was always open. “You don’t get that experience at most schools.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 05/20/2019