Materials Girl

August 03, 2018

Madeline Van Winkle ’18 has always had a love for science – you might say it’s in her DNA.

Maddie Van Winkle ’18 has spun her love of materials chemistry into a paper published in an esteemed science journal — and an NSF post-graduate fellowship.

“Both my grandfathers were scientists. One worked as a chemical engineer; he helped to formulate Teflon. The other was a physical chemist who contributed to the Manhattan Project.”

It’s pretty clear that Van Winkle has some serious chemistry bona fides. And the chemistry major is marching in her family footsteps. She was a lead author on a paper that was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.

As her advisor, Joe Reczek, associate professor of chemistry, notes, “Advanced Materials is the very top journal in all of materials science — and one of the highest impact journals in all of science. It is very rare for a journal of this caliber to publish a paper with an undergraduate as the first author. Maddie’s excellent work made this possible.”

Adding luster to an already stellar college career, Van Winkle has been awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship, which will fund the next three years of her post-graduate work. She plans to attend U.C. Berkeley, where she also was awarded a Chancellor’s Fellowship.

These scholarships will give Van Winkle a significant advance in her research.

“Essentially, I’ll be self-employed, and I’ll have the independence to do the research I want to do. I’ll be able to work with the professor whose research I’m interested in — even one who doesn’t have funding for their work — because I’ll carry my own funding for the research.”

At Berkeley, Van Winkle will continue to study materials chemistry. That is, she’ll use chemistry to design and synthesize materials with potentially useful characteristics, like magnetic, optical, structural or catalytic properties.

In a sense, she’ll continue some of the work she started here, where her research with Reczek explored the optical and electrical properties of liquid crystals in a film of molecules. They used a laser, similar to what you would find in a DVD recorder, to align crystals and control their optical properties.

Van Winkle is grateful for the opportunities she’s had at Denison. “Not many undergraduate students get to help develop a theory, test the mechanics behind the research, and create the illustration figures for an article — and then have it published in such a prestigious journal,” she says.

“I was initially drawn to Dr. Reczek’s project because of its potential applications for solar energy. And he’s been so supportive, giving me ideas, but supporting my independence,” says Van Winkle. “He’s been a wonderful guide and a very good mentor.”

Exceptional students like Maddie come to Denison where they are mentored by caring faculty, and are intellectually challenged to grow and explore. Uniquely focused attention and academic rigor are made possible by support from the Unlocking Potential Campaign. The campaign directly funds scholarships, academic innovation, and support for faculty’s cutting-edge research that places them at the top of their fields — and in a strong position to help our students launch into lives of personal and professional success.