CLAS senior Elizabeth Wolert (pictured above) came to UF knowing she would study science. "I love all the sciences, but especially chemistry since it allows you to combine math and logic to solve problems," she says.
At the invitation of her first UF Chemistry professor, Randy Duran, Wolert began doing particle research in UF's Butler Polymer Chemistry lab the summer after her freshman year as part of UF's REU or "Research Experience for Undergraduates" program. This led to a fellowship from the Engineering Research Center for Particle Science and Technology. By the end of her sophomore year she was making such good progress that Duran encouraged her to travel to France on a new REU exchange program he was organizing with the National Science Foundation (NSF). "It's the first international undergrad research exchange funded by the NSF," Wolert explains, "and I was the guinea pig." Although two other women took part that first summer, they were stationed in different cities, so Wolert was the lone American in her Bordeaux lab. "I worked in an all organic lab under a French graduate student who was working on her English--the language barrier was a little difficult, but the experience inspired me to take two semesters of French when I returned to UF."
The experience also led to Wolert's first publication, a paper she co-authored with her French labmates that was printed in Macromolecules, a polymer chemistry journal. Wolert's current work entails observing how certain particles pack together; she examines their stability of formation and their morphology by using atomic force microscopy. Among other things, this type of research will advance the development of liquid crystal displays such as computer monitors.
But life is not all test tubes and lab coats for Wolert, who, like the others featured in this section, involves herself in campus and community projects. Most notably, she's been involved in the Champs Partnership for Education, an Alachua County program designed to prevent students from dropping out. "I tutored a kindergarten girl who had a troubled home life and was already showing behavior problems at school," she explains. "We spent one hour a week together reading and practicing flashcards so that she could pass kindergarten and successfully enter grade school. It's a good program."
Becoming a scientist within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has had its advantages for Wolert. "A liberal arts education makes you a more well-rounded person," she explains. " I've gotten to take some incredible classes like 'Science and Justice' where we studied forensics [the late Dr. Maples gave the class a tour of The Pound Human Identification Lab], and I learned to enjoy writing about literature in an honors course called 'The Fantastic World of Literature' where we read everything from Edgar Allan Poe to Russian writer Nikoli Gogol."
"CLAS has improved my communication skills," Elizabeth continues. "You have to know more than science to organize your research and to publicize what you're doing--you have to be a good communicator."
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