Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Paige Roth

Catalysts come in many forms. From social, to political, to chemical catalysts, all catalysts serve the same purpose—to speed up a reaction. In the chemical industry, many catalysts are soluble—meaning they mix in with the reaction and are hard to separate from the final product. However, here at Trinity, chemistry researcher Elisabeth Purdy examines a heterogeneous catalyst—a solid catalyst that can easily be removed from a liquid or gas reaction—in chemistry professor Bert Chandler’s lab.

Elisabeth Purdy ('15)

Much like a chef perfecting a recipe, Purdy spent most of her summer optimizing the reaction. In order to study the effectiveness of the catalyst at speeding up the reaction, Purdy first had to establish the order in which she added reagents, concentrations of reagents, and timing. Using gas chromatography, Elisabeth could take samples throughout the reaction and measure product yield.

Purdy uses a gold catalyst, a small cluster of gold atoms supported by a nano surface of titanium dioxide, speeds up the reaction of phenyl acetylene to styrene. The reaction complements other studies in the lab like those performed by fellow research student Adwaith Mani.

Now, why do you need such an expensive catalyst to perform this reaction? Reagents and catalysts are selective and specific in how they alter different compounds. In this case, the starting material, phenylacetylene, can often be reduced completely to ethyl benzene. This means that the triple bond attached to the circular aromatic ring would be converted into one single bond instead of styrene—a double bonded substituent. Gold proves to be the ideal catalyst because it selectively hydrogenates the triple bonded group (called acetylene) and stops before reducing the compound completely to ethyl benzene.
Gold is an ideal catalyst because it selectively hydrogenates phenyl acetylene without completely reducing the compound to ethylbenzene.
A depiction of the gold on titanium dioxide supported catalyst Purdy uses to convert Phenyl acetylene to styrene in the presence of hydrogen gas.

Heterogeneous catalysts, like the catalyst Purdy studies, are particularly useful in industry and have numerous applications. For example, a group of researchers at Harvard study artificial photosynthesis using a heterogeneous catalyst to make an artificial leaf that generates hydrogen power when dropped in a glass of water and placed in the sunlight. While Purdy’s findings will contribute to the larger field of catalysis and electrochemistry, her true satisfaction comes from mastering the reaction: “You feel good about yourself when you manage to make a reaction work in a way that no one else has ever done before." 

Elisabeth Purdy will be pursuing her love of chemistry research in a Ph.D. program at Columbia University this fall.
By Paige Roth

By now we have seen what research looks like in the sciences and humanities, but, for our next undergraduate researcher, we turn our attention to Trinity University’s School of Business to explore the question: What does research look like for a business student?

School of Business, Tam Ngo

Throughout the summer, international business major Tam Ngo researched alongside Dr. Deli Yang to investigate the cultural impacts of Chinese, Chinese American and American CEOs on business practices. Because China has the highest percent of women in senior management positions—51% of Chinese women hold such positions compared to the global average of 21%--the comparison was particularly apt. Of female CEOs in China, most women are co-founders of their companies and firms, many of which are in the technology industry.

School of Business, Tam Ngo, Deli Yang
Dr. Deli Yang collaborates with Ngo and fellow research student during a weekly meeting to discuss progress on the womens' individual projects.
In an effort to understand how cultural etiquettes influence these influential business-women, Ngo compiled data on over 100 female CEOs in the three categories and condensed the list to 18 case studies in addition to conduction interviews with Chinese women and professors from which she analyzed three critical questions. First, she examined the historical trajectory of CEOs in both the US and China. Second, she analyzed the importance of personal culture in the workplace specifically between Chinese and Chinese American CEOs. And, finally, Ngo assessed how these personal cultures contributed to the women’s success or failure in business.

Ngo’s findings suggested the culture shift and evolution of traditional Chinese roles for women—where women were not expected to go to college and were, instead, expected to fulfill their domestic role. “If something happened to the family, women were the scapegoats,” explained Ngo, “Now increasing numbers of Chinese women go to college and seek high level degrees in pursuit of executive occupations. Surprisingly, many of the women also maintained a successful career in addition to a happy family.”

School of Business, Tam Ngo

As a Vietnamese international student and aspiring business-woman, Ngo’s research is a turning point for her. After presenting her research in front of a large audience, an opportunity many undergraduate students never receive, she has new hopes for the impact her research can make on women like her. “I hope that my research empowers women to believe in what they can do,” said Ngo, “I hope Chinese women appreciate their own value and become more confident global leaders.”