"I feel blessed that I get to the chance to work with intelligent and energetic young people, and with students who get a kick out of the same stuff that captivates me."

Professor of Chemistry Timothy Strein believes that working with students in the research lab is the only really effective way to teach them how to be chemists. Indeed, learning chemistry by doing it is a central theme of Bucknell's chemistry department, of which Strein is chair. Undergraduates work side-by-side with faculty on research projects in the lab, spending winter breaks and entire summers conducting collaborative research.

"I once had a conversation with former Bucknell President Gary Sojka and he likened scientific research to playing basketball," says Strein. "You can talk about working in the lab or playing the sport, but until you get into the lab or onto the court, you just can't fully grasp it. I liked that analogy so well that I've used it more times than I can count." 

Strein says he enjoys helping his students grow as chemists and as people, embracing the life coach role that an educator can play for his students, working with them to learn how to do something better, and cheering them on all the way. "They come into the lab thinking that I know all the answers and will somehow magically make them understand things," he says. "Eventually, they realize that while I have more experience, I don't have all the answers, and that's really the beginning of their move away for dependence."

Strein says that by the time his best students leave Bucknell, they are equal collaborators rather than apprentices.

"I feel blessed that I get to the chance to work with intelligent and energetic young people, and with students who get a kick out of the same stuff that captivates me," he says. Namely, Strein's research group works to understand how ions move when under the influence of a voltage field and how that movement can be used to separate chiral isomers of drugs, or mix nanoliter volumes of reagents for a clinical assays or design drug delivery systems in difficult matrixes such as brain tissue. Together, Strein and his students have secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in external research grants to support their work and have co-authored more than 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Strein points out that a strong departmental support structure and colleagues who share a "common sense of the importance of research to student learning" help the collaborative scientific culture in the chemistry department. Strein's research group has a collaborative project with Professor David Rovnyak's group that is aimed at understanding how naturally-occurring bile acids aggregate with one another and how these charged aggregates can be used to assess the purity of chiral drug candidates. Together, Strein and his students continue to very effectively gain new knowledge and contribute to the scientific literature through doing chemistry in the laboratory. He says its rewarding to help young scientists be ready for "play" at the next level. 

Posted May 9, 2012

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