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Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship Awarded to Ithaca College Chemistry Major

ITHACA, NY — The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program has named Ithaca College junior Rachel Snyder as a Goldwater Scholar for her academic and research achievements in the natural sciences. One of only 283 scholars selected from colleges and universities across the country, Snyder is majoring in chemistry in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Created to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering, the Goldwater Scholars program is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Snyder is currently working in the research laboratory of Michael Haaf, associate professor of chemistry, investigating ways to make plastics from non-petroleum sources in order to make them more environmentally friendly. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry.

“I want to spend my professional life contributing to the growth of scientific ideas through research in materials science,” says Snyder. “My undergraduate research has proved to me that something as simple as a biodegradable plastic is vastly complex, and I am enthralled by the idea of refining the materials around us through chemistry. I want to create materials that only exist because I had an idea; because I was able to morph standard scientific concepts and techniques into something unique and useful.”

Snyder has also begun work on a major research project under the direction of Will Dichtel, a collaborator in the chemistry department at Cornell University, exploring a new class of macromolecules known as covalent organic frameworks. First reported in 2005, these materials have shown promise in several applications, such as flat-panel displays, drug-delivery vehicles and alternative energy devices.

“Rachel exhibits the perfect skill set for research science,” says Haaf, who nominated Snyder for the Goldwater scholarship. “She is inherently intelligent and curious, she is a very fast learner — I’ve never had to show her a technique twice — and she has a tremendous work ethic and amazing scientific intuition. I am impressed at her keen ability to design an experiment and to anticipate what experiments need to be done next. Importantly, Rachel understands the patience and tenacity that is required to conduct research, and she has proven more than up to the challenge.”

Snyder didn’t start out as a chemistry major, but took an introductory course in her freshman year and got hooked on the subject. When she began conducting research, she knew she had found her calling.

“The very first day I came into the lab, I worked with air and moisture sensitive materials in the glove box. At five feet tall, I had to stand on a cinder block in order to actually reach my reaction (though I have since gotten my very own stool). Until that point, every classroom experiment I had done resulted in getting the desired product and dumping it into a communal waste jug. With research, however, I have entered a world where answers are not in the back of the book. If I cannot figure out an answer, there isn’t one. For that reason, I have become enthralled with the complex and thrilling puzzle that is scientific research.”

In addition to her strong performance in a very demanding major, Snyder is involved with a variety of organizations both on and off campus. She has served as co-president of the Ithaca College Student Volunteers for the Special Olympics and founded the campus chapter of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

For more information on the Goldwater Scholars program, click here.