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Sarah Vukelich

“Green Chemistry” the Subject of Undergraduate Research for Sarah Vukelich

Sarah Vukelich chuckles slightly when admitting that she enjoys her work in the lab much more than her classes. But her experience working in the research lab of Professor Jakob Magolan is as much about education as anything. Magolan uses the weekly lab meetings to do more than just coordinate work on the research projects. “It’s really like taking a sort of class in organic synthesis”, he says. In fact, that learning is Sarah’s favorite part of the undergraduate research experience. “I like the people and the support. I am part of a really good lab group. We learn a lot from Jakob and from each other,” she says, adding that “we’re also pretty good friends!”

Sarah’s project, which she’s been working on since Fall 2011 is in the field of “green chemistry”, in which newer, more environmentally friendly, methods are sought as alternatives to standard processes in synthetic chemistry. In Sarah’s case, she is looking for a way to use atmospheric oxygen (along with a solid catalyst) as an oxidizing agent. She will continue the work from now to her graduation in May 2013 supported by one of the College of Science’s Hill Undergraduate Research Fellowships.

Sarah, now in her junior year at UI, began research experiences all the way back in her freshman year. Her participation in the UI Honors Program resulted in her taking Professor Tom Bitterwolf’s Chemistry 111 class that year, and she quickly ended up working in Bitterwolf’s lab. After taking most of her sophomore year away from the lab because of very intense coursework, she completed an internship last summer working for an industrial chemistry company in Delaware. That experience sparked an interest in chemical syntheses and renewed her desire to get back in the lab. She looked at the research profiles of the Chemistry faculty and found Professor Magolan’s work to be a good match. After meeting with him, she knew she’d found where she wanted to work. “I cancelled the remaining meetings I’d set up with faculty members”, she says.

Sarah comes to UI from Richland, Washington. She was definitely cut out to be a scientist, as she remembers always loving to read Scientific American and watch things like the Discovery Channel. She started downhill skiing at age 16 and has been on the slopes as much as possible since then. She now skis competitively with the UI Women’s Ski Team. Following graduation she plans to go to graduate school in an interdisciplinary program, perhaps either chemical neurobiology or some aspect of energy research (the subject of her internship work).