Summer Research Snapshot: Graduate Student Steven Chapman

Graduate student Steven Chapman works at his desk.The weather in Madison is slowly cooling down, undergraduates are moving in, and the first football game of the season is one week away. We are nearing the end of summertime in Madison. Today marks the conclusion of our series highlighting research being conducted during the summer in the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry.

Steven Chapman is a second-year graduate student in Tehshik Yoon’s research group. His research involves developing additional synthetic reactions using the Yoon group’s photocatalysts.

Q: Tell me a bit about your research.

SC: Generally, our lab focuses on photocatalysis using visible light to promote different types of reactions, such as net [2+2] or [3+2] cycloadditions. The project I’m working on is to discover and develop a wider range of reactions using our same catalysts. I mainly work with the iridium based photocatalysts with highly fluorinated ligands to make them more effective oxidizing catalysts for difficult substrates.

I hadn’t done photochemistry before graduate school and it’s been a lot of fun setting up reactions using visible light instead of heat. The most interesting part has been getting a completely different reaction mechanism by shining light on the reaction. It’s a whole new field for me.

Q: What does a typical day during the summer look like for you?

SC: I usually get into lab around 8-8:30 a.m. and set up shorter reactions that I can work-up after lunch. Reactions that run overnight or longer, I’ll usually set up in the afternoon. I try to figure out the best way to set up reactions so I can work them up and purify them efficiently.

Today’s schedule has been a lot different than normal. This morning I had coffee with a friend and then I helped the incoming first-year graduate students register for their fall classes—answering their questions and pointing them in the right direction to figure out what their schedule should look like. And later today, there’s the First-Year Mixer, a social event for the new graduate students where they can meet one another and older graduate students.

Q: This is your first summer of graduate school. What’s been your experience in transitioning from teaching and taking classes to full research mode?

SC: I think at the beginning I tried to jump right in and I almost rushed it. I’ve had to learn to take a step back and approach problems a bit more systematically. It’s been an important learning summer in terms of how to approach my research and most efficiently use my time.

Graduate student Steven Chapman works in the lab.Q: What do you enjoy doing outside lab during the summer?

SC: When I first got to Madison, I joined a church and I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year with this church. Over the summer, I’ve been with their leadership team and helping plan new events for the next year. The most exciting thing I’ve been up to this summer is joining the Hoofer Sailing Club. I’ve never sailed before but I’m taking lessons on one of their small sailboats and windsurfing boards. It’s also been exciting to meet the new chemistry faculty and their students and hear about the research they’re bringing to the department.

Q: Are you looking forward to anything in the fall?

SC: I think what I’m looking forward to most is being a teaching assistant for Organic Laboratory Director Nick Hill for Chemistry 346, the advanced organic synthesis lab. The students in that class are going to be the ones who are really interested in synthesis and want to go into organic chemistry. We’ll be able to cover material at a deeper level and they’ll, hopefully, be just as excited about it as I am.

—Nicole Thomas