STELLA KATHERYN BETANCOURT
Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry, Purdue University
B.A. in Chemistry, Florida International University
What was your research topic and how did you become interested in it?
My research was the study and application of gas-phase ion/ion reactions of biologically relevant molecules. I coupled gas-phase ion/ion chemistries to existing mass spectrometry methods to enhance current analytical methods in the industrial and biological field. Current methods have a lot of pitfalls that we hoped to mitigate using various gas-phase reactions. Proper analytical techniques allow for better characterization of manufactured chemicals prior to selling them to the public and improve medical analysis to identify diseases.
I first became interested in analytical chemistry when I interned for the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University during undergrad. I worked on method development for explosives and opiates and I really enjoyed troubleshooting. I was able to work on some cases with the Miami-Dade police department and saw how analytical chemistry directly affects the society. I like the fact that analytical chemistry could be applied to all facets of people’s life and make a difference.
“In our lab at Purdue, we would troubleshoot our instruments. In this picture, I am taking apart one of our mass spectrometers to find the source of a problem with our vacuum system.”
What were the most difficult and the most gratifying aspects of your studies?
The hardest thing for me was realizing how much I had forgotten in between my undergraduate career and graduate school. Though I worked in the industry for several years, I had become so specialized that I hadn’t used a lot of my basic chemistry knowledge. My first semester was one of the toughest times I had in graduate school.
The most gratifying thing about graduate school was the day that your research “makes sense”. When you can sit down, look at the data, and plan the next experiments for your manuscript. I have taken that style of work into my job: I ensure I understand the pieces and set a plan rather than just diving in.
What are your plans after graduation?
I am currently part of the Ph.D. Professional Development Program at BASF. For the next two years, I will be rotating to different sites in the United States and learning various jobs and different aspects of the business. I am currently working as an application technology scientist in the personal care division. My focus will be helping in the development formulations of hair products for the North American market. Once I have finished my rotations, I will be applying for a permanent position in the company.