As a chemistry student at Roanoke, you'll have incredible freedom to study the essence of the world in a supportive, open-door environment. You'll experience chemistry firsthand through research, internships, independent studies and department trips to medical schools and chemical firms. If you're interested in chemistry or health-related careers, we offer individual mentoring as well as help with the graduate and medical school admissions process.
Curriculum & Courses
Classroom based learning is an important part of an undergraduate education. However, experiencing the full flavor of scientific work requires the addition of a different type of opportunity. Independent study research experiences are designed to complement regular courses by offering in-depth projects concentrating on one topic. Typically students work a full semester or a full summer on one particular project. Working closely with a faculty member, the student defines a research project, carries out experiments, and analyzes the results. The project culminates in a written report and oral presentation. Most students also present their projects at external scientific meetings, such as regional meetings of the American Chemical Society and similar groups. The department also offers smaller scale opportunities to explore research, through the Chem 205 course.
Summer is an ideal time for immersing oneself in an independent study project. Many Roanoke graduates report their summer research experiences to be among the most memorable experiences of their undergraduate careers. To support the Chemistry Department's summer research program, a number of donors (including many past participants) have given money to the Bondurant Fund, which is used solely for the purpose of providing stipends to summer research students in the Chemistry Department. This support allows several students each summer to concentrate full time effort on their independent study projects.
Roanoke College offers a college-wide program that supports student researchers in the summer. A stipend and housing are provided for over a dozen students each summer, with projects drawn from all academic disciplines on campus. In addition to their disciplinary research, participants have regular meetings to share current research reports and to explore other common interests, such as learning the oral and written presentation skills they will use at the conclusion of their projects.
For general information on undergraduate research opportunities, contact Dr. Cathy Sarisky.
Learn By Doing
Nanocrystal research teaches technical skills, problem solving
"The topics didn't just challenge me, they also interested me," Skylar Paderick said. "I wanted to know why it didn't make sense to me all the time."
Frequently stopping by his professor's office with questions led to participation in a research project. Working with Dr. Steven Hughes, he developed a synthetic method and procedure to manufacture nanocrystals that can be used to control the optical properties. "Research has taught me skills, techniques, problem solving, self reliance and responsibility," Paderick said, "which is a permanent enhancement to my ability to learn."
Joy from challenge, tenacity in Alzheimer’s research
"Research was one of the best experiences I had at Roanoke College and taught me numerous lessons," Caitlin Donahue '17 said. "I found my passion in research but also experienced frustration. Troubleshooting an experiment and determining the reason for a failure provides an extreme sense of accomplishment and happiness."
In Dr. Richard Keithley's lab, Donahue worked on developing a method to monitor glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter related to Alzheimer's disease. "I learned how to present my research and myself to the larger scientific community by participating in research conferences," she said.
Chemistry majors are doing serious research
Thane Jones, a junior Chemistry major, took research beyond the classroom by traveling to San Diego, CA to present at the American Chemistry Society. Jones worked daily with his professor leading up to the trip to perfect his project on Thermal Self-Heating Polymers. "Research gives you experience that goes beyond the typical course work and labs that you take during the year" admits Jones, and he is grateful for the endless opportunities that Roanoke College offers.
Danielle Allen is working with Dr. Catherine Sarisky as a Summer Scholar, and she started working in the lab as part of the Undergraduate Research Assistant Program. They are researching expressing the protein PurF in the Archeal species Sulfolobus solfataricus.
Colin Blye presented his research at Pittcon, a conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., that covers research on analytical chemistry and applied spectroscopy. "Working one-on-one with a professor is a really good learning experience," he said. "Doing research, you are able to learn so much about a topic that you would not normally get the opportunity to do in a classroom."
What Makes Roanoke Different?
At Roanoke, freshmen use instruments that are available only to seniors or graduate students at many other schools. Alumni tell us that their experiences with instrumentation here distinguish them from the norm when they enter graduate school or the workforce.
Roanoke's Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer
In an effort to enhance students' experience with instrumentation, the College has acquired a 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. With the higher resolution provided by the NMR, students and professors are able to work with more complex samples than before. Future research involving a variety of biomolecules will now be possible.
Take A Look Around
Action in the Lab
Check out photos of our students working in the chemistry lab.
Careers & Outcomes
Goldwater Scholar obtained Ph.D. and medical degree
Jeremy Johnson '13 obtained both a medical degree and a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky. As a student at Roanoke, he was a chemistry major with a math minor who earned the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. Johnson worked closely with Dr. Vernon Miller, his undergraduate research advisor, and describes him as "a huge influence."
Inspired by his mother's fight with cancer, Johnson's research is on cancer metabolomics. "The type of research I'll be doing will combine biochemistry and organic chemistry, two of my favorite courses at Roanoke," Johnson said. "In these courses, I learned from Drs. Hollis, Johann, Sarisky and Miller. They are excellent instructors who have provided me with a great foundation in both of these disciplines."