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Tyler McRuiz ’06 (Brookfield, Conn.) has a natural love of chemistry. Due to his extraordinary interest, the chemical engineering major completed an independent study in quantum chemistry – just for fun.

“I want to go to med school, so chances are I will never get the chance to learn this topic in the future,” says McRuiz. “So I am very happy that I had the chance here.”

Kenneth Haug, associate professor of chemistry and McRuiz’s adviser, was not surprised that he wanted to delve deeper into chemistry used in chemical engineering.

“Tyler is an excellent student and he has a very broad perspective,” says Haug. “He’s a chemical engineer, he did this independent study in quantum chemistry, and conducted EXCEL research in physics – and he’s a pre-med student.”

Rather than be content with only learning about the structure of molecules, McRuiz wanted to understand their behavior.

“We examined several topics, such as the basic concepts behind atomic and molecular structure and interactions, spectroscopy (using light to examine molecules), and computational chemistry (calculating the properties of molecules),” he says.

“We have a very user-friendly software package to teach the Schrodinger equation, which describes the structure and dynamics of molecules,” says Haug.

Haug explains the dynamics as “choreography of molecular structures, the electron and neutrons dancing around in a molecular ballet. Tyler wanted to more fully understand the dance.”

“I chose this [quantum chemistry independent study] because it combined various fields of interest to me – chemistry, physics, and mathematics – and I used my background in quantum physics and physical chemistry as a foundation for the course,” says McRuiz.

He also conducted research with Brad Antanaitis, associate professor of physics, as part of Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

McRuiz helped determine the conformational structure, or relative location of atoms, of two similar amino acids. He used nuclear magnetic resonance to determine intra-molecular interactions and estimate distance between atoms, and used this information in molecular modeling.

Since McRuiz’s EXCEL research focused on a topic similar to his study of the structure of molecules, Haug tailored his independent study in chemistry to complement the physics research.

“From the moment I first asked him about doing an independent study he was nothing but enthusiastic and friendly,” McRuiz says. “He was an excellent mentor, very helpful, and catered the course to my interests.”

Haug says independent study opportunities are one of the areas in which Lafayette excels.

“At a larger institution, the faculty would be geared to doing research with graduate students. It wouldn’t be impossible [for undergraduates] to do this kind of independent study, but it would be a lot harder; you’d have to knock on enough doors,” he says. “It’s a lot harder to get where you want to go [at other undergraduate institutions].”

“Lafayette was an excellent environment for my project,” says McRuiz. “It maintained the small-school approach – I was the only one doing this course – but it also was able to provide material and teaching at a graduate level. Lafayette is able to provide a very good engineering education in a small, undergraduate school setting. This is the main reason I chose Lafayette.”

McRuiz serves as a chemistry teaching assistant, a physics and organic chemistry tutor, and is a member of the student chapter of American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He graduated from Immaculate High School.

Independent study courses are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their work at this year’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News