This summer, three Whitman chemistry majors are gaining hands-on laboratory experience researching quantum dot nanocrystals — particles that can emit and absorb light based on quantum mechanics — with Assistant Professor Mark Hendricks.
"I learned a little bit about nanocrystals in my first-year general chem class and thought it was interesting," said Kaia Martin '21. "I talked to Professor Hendricks and we applied for funding through the Perry research scholarship and got it, so now I'm working in his lab."
The Louis B. Perry Summer Research Endowment funds Faculty-Student Summer Research Awards to support collaborative projects between Whitman students and faculty in a variety of disciplines.
Soren Sandeno '21, like Martin, is just starting the two-year process that will culminate in a senior thesis. Jack Chen '19, who will graduate in December, is in the final year of work on his senior thesis, which is focused on zinc sulfide and the development of its molecular precursors.
Overseeing the researchers is Hendricks, who joined Whitman's Chemistry Department in 2018.
"Ten years ago, the applications for nanocrystals were limited to biological imaging, such as dying a cell," Hendricks said. "But over the past five years, a lot of companies have started using nanocrystals to produce the color in high-end television display monitors - QLED, or quantum dot LEDs."
Hendricks is also interested in solar applications, using nanocrystals to make solar cells, for instance, and he thinks there are many new applications yet to be learned.
"The ultimate goal is to try and add some knowledge to the chemistry field. As a community, we still don't understand a lot of the chemistry that goes on in these sorts of reactions," Hendricks said.
For the students, this full-time experience working in a chemistry lab helps them not only accomplish their academic goals and add to the collective knowledge of chemistry, but also direct them on their academic and post-graduate path.
"They're getting to spend a lot of one-on-one time with me and their fellow students in the lab," Hendricks said. "Jack is able to provide a role model relationship with Kaia and Soren. They're learning from him, and they're all learning from me — not just about chemistry, but also career options once you're a chemist."