March 28, 2013 | Myrna Anderson

Chemistry professor Carolyn Anderson is extending her research while developing a new generation of researchers.

Calvin chemistry professor Carolyn Anderson works to discover new chemical reactions—reactions that can be used to make molecules that have not been made before. “I look at my work as extending the toolbox for my colleagues in industry as they approach targets that might be the next pharmaceutical or the next antibiotic,” she said.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Anderson a three-year $230, 000 grant to continue that research, a project that bears the technical name “RUI: Synthesis of Highly Functionalized N-Alkyl 2-Pyridones.” The grant will allow her to develop the next steps in her techniques.

Mentoring students

Anderson’s work always involves student researchers. Some of them are top-performing students. Some are not. Some are eyeing careers in medicine, a common path for many chemistry majors. Anderson is eager to cultivate students who want to take their chemistry major in a different direction: “We have an ability here at Calvin to reach out to students who might be missed,” she said. “We have an opportunity here to put them in a research environment, and for some students, that’s life changing. I feel really challenged to do that. It’s the best part of my job.”

Junior chemistry major John LaGrand has been researching with Anderson since he was a sophomore, and he enjoys the challenges of the work: “She has a clear idea of the progress she hopes to make on her research, and she imparts that to her students, but the students have a great deal of independence in deciding how that progress is to be accomplished. That being said, Professor Anderson is always happy to help provide guidance and to discuss potential plans of attack,” he said.

Anderson is grateful for the encouragement she received to pursue a science career. As she was growing up in suburban Detroit, her aunt would send her pop-science facts to encourage her early scientific interest. “I loved it,” she said. Anderson declared her career intentions young: “I told my mom I wanted to do medical research when I was 10 or 11, and she asked me to explain what that was. I gave a pretty good definition, I think, and she said, ‘Okay.’”

She took a lot of biology and physics and chemistry in high school, and chemistry suited her best. Anderson went to the University of Michigan, graduating in 1998. It was there that she began doing research in an organic chemistry lab in her sophomore year. She continued researching in grad school at the University of California-Irvine (UCI), graduating with her PhD in chemistry in 2003. She worked for two years at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., before coming to Calvin.

Promoting research excellence

“Carolyn is a terrific colleague, an excellent teacher, and as this grant confirms, an excellent scientific investigator … ,” said chemistry chair Larry Louters. He praised Anderson’s consistent championing of Calvin to the broader scientific community and her commitment to providing great opportunities for her undergraduate research students both at Calvin and once they leave Calvin.

“Carolyn's grant is wonderful for Calvin and our department in that it confirms the quality of her research in particular and the quality of research at Calvin in general,” Louters said. “It also provides valuable funding to continue to involve and train Calvin undergraduate students in research.”

Anderson is grateful that the grant will continue to support all of these efforts: “I love helping students figure out what their dreams are and then helping to get them there,” she said.


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