Chemistry Senior Wins Goldwater Scholarship

By Claire Neiberg
Sophomore, Secondary Education and English

Photo of Elisabeth LatawiecElisabeth Latawiec is a senior Chemistry and Math double-major and the recipient of the Goldwater scholarship-a national scholarship for STEM majors, specifically designed for people who perform undergraduate research and plan on going to graduate school. She has been doing computational chemistry research with her mentor, Dr. Jeffrey D. Evanseck, in the Chemistry Department for three years. In her experiments, metal catalysts are typically used in organic synthesis reactions. She explains, however, that "Recent developments in the field of organocatalysis promote the use of more ecofriendly compounds and minimize the production of hazardous waste." Her project uses computational chemistry to investigate the mechanism of organocatalysis and how these species deliver high selectivity and rate. She hopes understanding the mechanism will allow the development of improved organocatalysts that act in similar ways.

Elisabeth loves conducting her research because computation chemistry is based on physical chemistry, which heavily incorporates mathematics. Through her research, she can see how math and chemistry interplay with each other and can be applied together. She has also picked up coding and computer programming, which is beneficial as a math major. Her research has come with its own set of challenges, as her project is ever changing. Latawiec stated, "Whenever I reach a barrier, I have to reevaluate what I'm doing and come up with a new set of experiments to perform." Because of this, it can be hard to see connections across all of the different experiments that she does, but "every little experiment forms a bigger picture of my research." Latawiec's research explores green chemistry and making chemistry more sustainable. She stated, "It is important to further processes that are greener rather than sticking with something that may have worked in the past but is harming the environment," making her research relevant to today's political climate.

In her interview Latawiec gives special thanks to her professors, as, "The best thing about Duquesne for me has been the professors that I've had ... I've been able to have personal relationships with all of my professors. My research mentor really pushed me to apply for this award even though I didn't really have the confidence in myself." Dr. Evanseck helped her revise everything and reminded her that, "Being a good writer is just as important as being a good scientist because if you have the ability to effectively communicate your research, then you will be more likely to win awards and research grants." Along with her mentor, Latawiec admires her mother who is her biggest support and just earned her master's degree herself which inspires Latawiec to continue on to graduate school. She also is a part of the Women in STEM club and has found role models in her female mentors who continue to foster her research and passion for computational chemistry.