In this Q&A, we speak with Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences. Personick, who joined the faculty at Wesleyan in 2015, is interested in developing tailored metal nanomaterials that improve the clean production of energy and enable the efficient use of energy resources. Her work has recently been published in the journals Particle and Particle Systems Characterization and American Chemical Society Catalysis.
Q: Professor Personick, how would you describe your main research interests?
A: The main research areas in my group are controlling the shape and composition of noble metal nanocrystals, and exploring the use of these nanoparticles as catalysts to improve the efficiency and selectivity of reactions that are important in chemical industry and in energy production.
Q: When did you develop an interest in chemistry?
A: I’ve always been interested in science in general, but it was more a broader interest than a specific focus on chemistry. There was actually a period of time in high school when I wanted to be a particle physicist. I chose chemistry after writing an essay about a cool new light-controlled nanoparticle cancer treatment for a class my senior year in high school.
Q: What attracted you to Wesleyan and how has your experience been here over the last couple years?
A: I had a really positive small liberal arts college experience at Middlebury, where most of my professors knew who I was and cared about how I was doing in their class. Once I decided I wanted to be a professor, I knew that was the type of environment I wanted. In the different courses I’ve taught in my first two years, I’ve found the atmosphere at Wesleyan to be well-matched to pursuing that kind of teaching philosophy. What attracted me to Wesleyan specifically are the unique research opportunities that come out of having a small, but strong, graduate program in addition to being a top-tier undergraduate institution. The advanced research instrumentation here at Wesleyan, such as the electron microscopy facility, is also crucial to our ability to successfully carry out our research. I’d always wanted to work primarily with undergraduates once I set up my own research lab, but having even just two graduate students in that lab as well makes an enormous difference in the level of research I’m able to carry out. In turn, that creates an environment in which the very talented undergraduates I’ve had in my group so far have the opportunity to work on independent projects that get published in peer-reviewed journals and that are well-received by other scientists at major conferences. It’s been very rewarding over the last two years to get our lab up and running and to begin to see the results of the hard work put in by all of my research students, undergraduate and graduate.