Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights a graduate student who is doing great work around the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Jessica Schulze, who is a fourth year student in the van Duin group.
Jessica’s research is focused on describing the chemistry involved in systems that are dependent on water and salt solutions. Some of these systems include cyro-EM, which is used in structural biology; hydrogels, which are used in medical devices; and analyzing amino acids on one of Saturn's moons. To investigate these problems, Jessica uses computational techniques. In particular, she uses a reactive forcefield called ReaxFF to try to understand the chemistry on a molecular scale.
This week, we met virtually with Jessica to discuss her life in and outside of the lab! Please enjoy our interview with Jessica Schulze.
Question: How did you get interested in chemistry?
Answer: I was always interested in science and math growing up. However, when I started college, I started out with biochemistry and math as my majors. I was always interested in how and why reactions took place and was never quite satisfied with the biologists’ answers to these questions. This led me to research in chemistry labs, and I ended up in a computational lab at the end of my junior year. I quickly realized that I wanted to continue doing computational research and applied to graduate school soon after joining the lab.
Q: What inspires you as a scientist?
A: As a scientist, I have always been inspired by the "why." I am always amazed that the world around us works like it does and that we can manipulate materials to make all sorts of inventions. I always wanted to understand why something worked. The further along in science I got, the more I started to realize there is still a lot we do not fully understand. I wanted to be a part of explaining the "why" and found the best place for me to do that was being a chemist.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up just south of Salt Lake City, Utah. I one time had someone in Pennsylvania ask me if we had cell phone service in Utah, and it made me laugh. Salt Lake City is a decently large city, and State College feels so small in comparison. There are definitely rural parts of Utah, but Salt Lake City is not one of them.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: I probably have too many! I always like to try new things. I play piano and teach dance classes in my spare time. Recently, I have taken up gardening and am preparing for what I want to plant in the spring. I also enjoy reading and playing games, including video games, card games, and board games.
Q: What’s your dream vacation?
A: I have always wanted to go to France and see pretty much everything. I would like to see the Louvre and Versailles in particular. I am also a big fan of wine, so I would love to go to wine country in France and try all the different varieties. France actually names their wine after the place the grapes were grown instead of the type of grape used in the wine.
Q: If you could have dinner with anybody (living or dead), who would it be and why?
A: Eleanor Roosevelt. I have always thought she was a very inspiring individual. I would love the opportunity to sit down and just chat with her about life if she were still living and I was ever lucky enough to have dinner with such a prominent figure.
Thanks to Jessica for these excellent and thoughtful answers! We hope you enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more graduate student highlights in the weeks to come!