If you have ever wondered how to extract salicylic acid from willow tree bark to make aspirin, feel free to ask Megahn Piper.
A senior double majoring in chemistry and biology with a pre-medical concentration, Piper loves tinkering in Olivet’s chemistry laboratories. “After taking my first few chemistry classes I realized how fascinating the subject is to me,” said Piper. “I’m specifically interested in applying the subject to the human body. I’ve recently considered pharmacy or pharmaceutical research as future careers. I am hoping to find more guidance on this decision in graduate school.”
Regardless of her career end-point, Piper understands that her graduate experience will encompass a significant amount of research. So she appreciates the opportunity to spend time in Olivet’s laboratories as an undergrad.
In fact, Piper spent her sophomore year working one-on-one with Susanne Lewis, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, on an independent study. As part of her project, she re-formatted some of the chemistry labs, making them more eco-friendly.
“Megahn is at the top of our class of chemistry majors,” said Prof. Lewis. “She is a bright and determined student who is highly capable of working independently. Once she had a plan in place for her independent study, she worked in the lab without much supervision. This year she is the senior lab teaching assistant for organic chemistry. She also has shown leadership qualities that will develop further with her tenure as president of the student chapter of the American Chemical Society.”
In recognition of her significant drive to succeed both in- and outside the classroom, Piper was awarded one of two David Cutler Fellowships at the college’s 2014 Honors Convocation.
“In our organic chemistry lab, we do a huge project where we extract oils from fruits and seeds and present our findings,” said Piper. “This semester, as part of my fellowship, I will take this process a step further and see if I can extract essential oils from plants to make rudimentary medicines.”
This includes aspirin from willow tree bark.
Piper is approaching her experiments as an opportunity to preview what her graduate school experience will entail – obstacles and all.
“The science faculty at Olivet teach you to think logically,” she added. “A lot of times science isn’t cut and dry; you have to think your way around a circle before coming to a conclusion. I have learned to become a highly skilled critical thinker and am confident I can overcome any obstacle I face during my fellowship.”
Coining this experience, “The perfect end to a wonderful four years at Olivet College,” Piper anticipates beginning her project this fall.
“I couldn’t be more honored to be where I am today,” she added. “I only hope I can continue to make the science faculty proud after I graduate this spring.”