Undergrad Spotlight: Jennifer Sowin

Jennifer Sowin

Jennifer Sowin is an undergraduate chemistry major, who came to UW-Madison from St. Francis Xavier High School in Appleton, WI.

  • What led you to the University of Wisconsin-Madison?
    Although I went to a small, private high school with a strong sense of community, I was drawn to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for its excellent research environment. Fortunately, I’ve found community in the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry, where I conduct undergraduate research in Prof. Shannon Stahl’s group, tutor organic chemistry, and work in the instructional organic chemistry stockroom.
  • When did you decide to pursue chemistry and why?
    During my first semester at UW-Madison, I took general chemistry 103. I became intrigued by the topics covered in this course, and thanks to Prof. Thomas Brunold’s clear explanations and passion for chemistry that translated to his lectures, I started to consider them (and chemistry) as an area of future study. In organic chemistry, I realized I found organometallics and mechanisms fascinating, and, thus, I wanted to investigate them further in a research setting. Therefore, since Prof. Shannon Stahl’s research group explores both organometallics and mechanisms, I joined the Stahl group in spring 2017 and remain a member of it today.
  • What other interests do you have?
    During summer 2017, I participated in the Harvard Amgen Scholars Program, which gave me the opportunity to investigate cobalt-mediated C-H amination in Prof. Ted Betley’s synthetic inorganic chemistry lab.  I was also able to be immersed into a community of like-minded scholars, planning to pursue Ph.D.s in biotechnology fields; although we had extremely diverse backgrounds, we were united by our passions for research.
  • Tell us about your undergraduate research experience.
    I currently investigate Pd-catalyzed aerobic oxidation reactions in Prof. Shannon Stahl’s research lab. We are interested in developing these reactions as alternatives to reactions relying on stoichiometric, toxic organic oxidants, and then utilizing them synthetically for late-stage functionalization, or for synthesis of natural products/synthetically useful reagents. My projects included developing a mild, Pd-DAF methodology for the allylic acyloxylation of terminal alkenes and then isolating and fully characterizing our novel acyloxylation products. My projects in Prof. Ted Betley’s lab involved synthesizing and metalating a novel, pyridine-incorporated dipyrrin ligand platform, which was promising for an intramolecular cobalt-mediated C-H amination reaction with linear alkyl azides.
  • What do you plan to do after graduation?
    I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, with the ultimate career goal of becoming a professor/researcher. As a researcher, I hope to develop new organometallic and organic methodologies. I wish to utilize these methodologies to develop more efficient chemical syntheses. As a professor, I wish to educate the next generation of organic chemists, and ultimately, inspire them to pursue a career in chemistry, like my professors have done for me.
  • Do you have any mentors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison you’d like to mention? If so, how have they helped you or changed your understanding of research?
    I am fortunate to have had excellent mentors in the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry, who provided guidance and support thus far in my undergraduate career. My instructor for general chemistry II was Dr. Paul Hooker. Professor Hooker taught an engaging chemistry course that sparked my interest in kinetics and chemical equilibria, early in my undergraduate education. The director of undergraduate research, Dr. Cheri Barta, guided me to a research group that aligned well with my interests, and of which I am now a member. I joined Prof. Stahl’s group during the spring 2017 semester and was introduced to my direct mentor in the lab, Caitlin Kozack. Beginning in the lab, I worked very closely with Caitlin, and, as a result, got to know her well as a scientist and individual. From her, I learned many scientific techniques; how to optimize reaction conditions, how to analyze NMR data, and how to purify organic compounds. I also learned skills that aren’t laboratory skills but are nevertheless equally valuable; how to search the scientific literature for spectra or reactions of a given molecule, and how to deal with chemistry that doesn’t work. I can now use failed chemistry to move a project in a synthetically useful direction.
  • Have you won any awards during your time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?
    I was awarded the Ieva Reich Undergraduate Scholarship, the Karen M. Telander Scholarship, the Ackerman Scholarship, and the Edwin M. and Kathryn M. Larsen Scholarship from the UW Madison Department of Chemistry for Summer 2018 and Fall 2018.