Junior Aleah Bond and Professor David Marten at the new NMR Spectrometer
Westmont has installed a new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer in the Whittier Science Building thanks to a $383,000 grant from the Fletcher Jones Foundation. The new 400 MHz spectrometer, which replaces a 300 MHz spectrometer that had reached the end of its 14-year life expectancy, allows researchers to peer into the molecular world and determine the structure of molecules.
“The chemistry department is feeling energized with the new spectrometer and a recent grant challenge match from the Stauffer Charitable Trust to endow our summer research program,” says Niva Tro, Westmont chemistry professor. “The new Fletcher Jones NMR will be an essential tool in our vital research program.”
The spectrometer is housed in the Fletcher Jones Foundation NMR Laboratory on the second floor of the Whittier Science Building. Since 1984, Fletcher Jones has given about $1.3 million in grants for other technology upgrades and research equipment, which have enhanced Westmont’s biology, chemistry, engineering and physics, and psychology departments. The foundation has also contributed $1.5 million toward the endowment of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts and to establish the rotating Fletcher Jones Foundation Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences.
The Fletcher Jones Foundation was established in 1968 by Fletcher Jones, cofounder of Computer Sciences Corporation, a worldwide leader in business technology. Following his untimely death in 1972, the foundation received the bulk of his estate. The primary mission of the foundation has been and still is the support of private, independent degree granting institutions of higher education in California.
Kristi Lazar Cantrell, assistant professor of chemistry, has used NMR extensively and has published her research in scientific literature. She uses the NMR with students in organic chemistry laboratories and in her research group to check the purity of chemicals in protein synthesis and purification. Westmont obtained the previous spectrometer when Cantrell was a student at Westmont. “We used the NMR frequently in class and during my undergraduate research,” she says. “When I entered graduate school, I was able to use the NMR there with little training, and I was thankful for the time my professors at Westmont invested to teach me this invaluable technique.”
Challenge Grant from the Stauffer Charitable Trust to Support Summer Undergraduate Research
The John Stauffer Charitable Trust has awarded a $500,000 challenge grant to endow the Westmont chemistry department’s Summer Science Research Program. The trust will match each dollar donated to the program through 2017 until the college is able to endow the program with $1 million.
“Summer research at Westmont with Professor Allan Nishimura taught me how to be a scientist and ultimately persuaded me to pursue my doctorate in physical chemistry at Stanford,” says Niva Tro, who has been teaching chemistry at Westmont for 22 years. “Because I was included as a coauthor on three of Allan’s publications, I was able to gain admission into the best chemistry graduate program in the country.”
In Nishmura’s 31 years at Westmont, he has collaborated with about 80 different students, co-authoring 95 published manuscripts.
“The grant secures the future of undergraduate research in the chemistry department at Westmont in perpetuity,” Tro says. “We manage to scrape our program together each year, but this grant puts it on secure footing and will even allow us to expand it a bit.”
If fully matched, the grant will fund housing and stipends for eight to 10 student researchers each summer. Currently, the college has the funding for three to six student researchers. “Science is best learned through apprenticeship,” Tro says. “When students do real research in a small group with a faculty member, they experience science from the inside. That experience is invaluable.”
The John Stauffer Charitable Trust, a private foundation based in Pasadena, was established in 1974 under Stauffer’s will. The trust directs its support primarily to Southern California hospitals, universities and colleges. In recent years, the trust has emphasized grants to fund student research in chemistry and biochemistry at such colleges as Westmont, Occidental, Harvey Mudd and Pomona.
Hannah Ryan, a 2012 Student Summer Researcher in Chemistry
had these comments about her experiences working with Professor Nishimura:
My summer research experience was truly impactful .... Research opened up my eyes to a world of creative and critical thinking.
I play the violin in the Westmont orchestra, and I realized that science is a lot like music. ...[R]esearch is the composing of science. It is the artistic expression of scientific minds... questioning, discovering, creating.
Confidence in my ability to think and explore has revolutionized the way I approach academics... and also my personal life. I am more engaged in my classes, and just have a general hunger for learning.
Our New Faculty Members in 2011
Dr. Michael Everest, who joined Westmont as professor of chemistry in August, 2011, says he is passionate about offering students a high-quality, undergraduate, liberal arts education. “It’s in my DNA,” he says. In fact his parents, Dan and Sherry (Sonneveldt) Everest, both graduated with degrees in psychology from Westmont in 1967, Sherry with a double major in education. Michael, a Wheaton College alumnus, earned his doctorate from Stanford University and most recently was professor of chemistry at George Fox University, where he taught for the past decade.
“College isn’t about job training,” he says. “College is learning about the human condition and about the world and how it works. You can specialize and do job training later. The best preparation for a particular career isn’t necessarily a degree titled with that career name.”
Everest’s research leans toward the physics end of chemistry, focusing on the use of lasers in chemistry. He returned to Oregon from Heraklion, Greece, in June 2010, following a one-year sabbatical at the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas, where he researched the interaction of polarized light with matter.
“Chemistry is a way of knowing,” he says. “It’s a field of inquiry. It’s investigating a particular aspect of how the world works. The fact that it’s commercially useful isn’t the primary reason I’m interested in it.”
Everest, who is married with three children, hopes to instill that sense of amazement in his students. “There’s wonder and beauty in the way nature works and is put together,” he says.
He explains there’s a single principle that describes why every single chemical reaction goes forward instead of backward and why ice freezes at zero and water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.
“There’s one foundational thing,” he says. “That just amazes me. It’s beautiful that at the core there’s a truth that has all these implications when at the surface it looks like crazy stuff and unconnected observations.”
Everest has earned numerous grants, fellowships and awards, including a grant from the America Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund and five faculty research grants from George Fox. He has contributed scholarly articles to Journal of Chemical Physics, Journal of Chemical Education and Review of Scientific Instruments to name a few.
As a student, Dr. Kristi Lazar ’00 says the unique living and learning environment at Westmont shaped her life. “Being a part of this community is special,” she says. “I felt blessed to have four years here to devote my time to learning and growing as a person. My professors encouraged me every day.”
Ten years later, Lazar, assistant professor of chemistry, returns to Westmont, seeking to impart a joy for learning. “I hope my students feel motivated to apply themselves, embrace the material and learn to think about the world in terms of God’s handiwork,” she says.
Lazar, who earned a master’s degree at Princeton University and a doctorate from the University of Chicago, returned to Westmont as a visiting assistant professor in January 2010 and began her tenure-track position this fall.
Her area of expertise is in protein aggregation, including the deposits of misfolded proteins thought to be responsible for many degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. She recently completed a 10-week summer research program with two Westmont students. Her students focused on the aggregation of protein models of apolipoprotein A-I, a protein that helps remove cholesterol from the body.
“I’m interested in delving into the structural level, trying to figure out what the protein looks like in the aggregate,” she says.
Lazar credits President Emeritus David Winter for her decision to enroll at Westmont in 1996. On a cold, rainy day in Visalia, Calif., Winter visited Grace Community Church to talk about Westmont to prospective students.
“There was a very small turnout,” she says. “I was a junior in high school and had never heard of Westmont, but after meeting him I got so excited about the college. He is an amazing person.” After applying and attending Preview Days, Lazar met Allan Nishimura, professor of chemistry. “That was very special as well, and I knew this was the place I was going to study,” she says.
Lazar recalled her initial encounter with Dr. Winter as he spoke at the dedication of Winter Hall in May 2011.
“I was standing there listening to him at the ceremony, thinking about God’s provision, the meeting at my church and how that led me back here as a professor,” she says. “It was moving to reflect on that, to see this new building and Dr. Winter’s legacy.”
Lazar enrolled at Westmont with the intention of becoming a pharmacist, but after conducting research in the chemistry department, her professors encouraged her to attend graduate school.
She undertook two years of postdoctoral research at Genentech Inc., a biotech company, before applying for the Westmont teaching position.
“I worked as a teacher’s assistant while I attended Westmont, and I always dreamed about teaching,” she says. “I reread my prayer journal recently, and I mentioned it would be wonderful to teach at a place like Westmont. It’s a little surreal.”
New Faculty Member in 2007
Chemistry professor Dr. Stephen Contakes, who joined the Westmont faculty in the fall of 2007, hopes to influence student’s lives inside and outside the classroom. The Lehigh University alumnus is a bioinorganic chemist who focuses on metals in biology.
“The chemistry involved in activities such as thinking and moving contain metals which play a key role in the ways our bodies function,” he says. Contakes does research that replicates in non-natural systems the way these metals act. His research may help reduce carbon dioxide emissions or prevent unwanted side effects in drugs. His research has been published in more than a dozen scientific journals.
Contakes earned his doctorate at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was named a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow, a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellow and a Barry Goldwater Scholar. Most recently, Contakes taught at Azusa Pacific University and is a visitor at the California Institute of Technology, where he has been conducting research on bioinorganic and biophysical chemistry for the past six years.
Former Westmont provost and current Houghton president Shirley Mullen encouraged him to interview for the faculty position.
“My passion is to see students’ lives change and grow in terms of their ability to think, their personal maturity, their Christian walk and their professional development,” Contakes says.“I fell in love with the place and the people,” Contakes says. “Every conversation I had contributed to my Christian life. I felt that I was challenged here by people’s interactions with me and could see myself committing to the general approach to Christian education.”
Contakes and his wife, Susan, have two sons. John is almost 2 years old and Philliip was born Dec. 2007.
Professor Nishimura: The New Kathleen Smith Chair of Natural and Behavioral Sciences
Allan Nishimura, professor of chemistry, has been installed in the Kathleen Smith chair of natural and behavioral sciences, the first endowed faculty chair in the sciences. A reception and induction ceremony was held on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 on the Westmont College campus.Three former students gave short, personal descriptions of Dr. Nishimura as a professor, research mentor, friend and colleague, followed by a presentation by the awardee on his current research. Chancellor David Winter bestowed the award and gave the Kathleen Smith metal to Dr. Nishimura. Below is a picture of the three former students with Prof. Nishimura and Chancellor Winter. Full story available using this link.
Molecule by Molecule
New General Chemistry text moves quickly to the top of the class.
Niva Tro, Professor of Chemistry, spent the last four years completing a general chemistry book. To date, more than 70 schools plan to incorporate “Chemistry: A Molecular Approach” (Prentice Hall, 2008) into their classes next fall. Released in the spring of 2007, the text has drawn strong and immediate interest. Niva attempts to meet the needs of both faculty and students by covering complex material in depth while striving to make it as easy as possible to grasp. “I set the bar high and then gave students a lot of help in mastering the content,” he says. “With support, they can reach a higher level of understanding.”
Niva Tro loves teaching chemistry, but he wasn’t satisfied with the textbooks available for college courses. So he started writing his own. His first venture, “Chemistry in Focus: A Molecular View of Our World” (Thomson, 2001), has reached its fourth edition. Students at more than 70 colleges and universities use the book in classes for non-majors. Emphasizing the role of the molecular world in daily life, Niva demonstrates the relevance of chemistry by covering issues such as global warming, acid rain and drugs.
The success of this book encouraged Niva to produce a second work, “Introductory Chemistry” (Prentice Hall, 2006). In use at more than 220 institutions, the text is the best-selling volume for preparatory chemistry. He discovered the need for such a book when he taught at Pepperdine; Westmont doesn’t offer this kind of class. As he did in the earlier book, Niva ties chemistry to current events and helps students understand the value of mastering scientific concepts. Clear writing and clever graphics make the text appealing.
Chemistry professor Allan Nishimura has recently published several articles, coauthored by undergraduates: “Optical methods as probes of the surface dynamics during disorder-to-order transition in naphthalene adlayer on Al2O3 (0001)” in the Journal of Undergraduate Chemistry Research, with Tim LeDoux, M. A. Evans, Katie Howard, and April Louie, “Temperature dependent non-radiative effects in the disorder-to-order transition in cyclopentanone and cyclohexanone films on Al2O3 (0001)” in Thin Solid Films with Tim LeDoux, Jon Rea, and K. A. Martin, and “Dynamics of disorder-to-order transition in bilayers: Formation of van der Waals molecular clusters by percolation of p-diflourobenzene through water adlayer on Al2O3 (0001)” in the Journal of Undergraduate Chemistry Research, with J. S. Brigham, A. J. Bishop, and K. A. Martin.
Professor Allan Nishimura Receives UC Davis Prize
Professor Allan Nishimura of the Chemistry Department has received the UC Davis Prize in Undergraduate Research Mentorship. He was given the award on June 8, 2004 when he presented an invited seminar at UC Davis entitled:”Formation of Molecular Clusters by Percolation of Water Through para-Dihalobenzene Adlayer on Al2O3(0001)”The research presented at the seminar was the result of work done by several undergraduate students at Westmont. In its second year, the UC Prize is designed to recognize professors at primarily undergraduate colleges and universities who have been successful in mentoring undergraduates in research and inspiring them to continue research in graduate school. Several Westmont graduates in chemistry have recently gone on to graduate school at UC Davis and these include Scott Riley (1997), Mako Masuno (1997) and David Saiki (2000).The prize was given to Professor Nishimura by Professor William Jackson, chair of the chemistry department at UC Davis, and included a plaque and a modest cash honorarium.