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Kerri Czekner, C'21, Creates Portable Spectrophotometer from Her Home

Kerri feature

Kerri Czekner, C’21, a biochemistry major and English minor, has gone from working in a lab to soldering and testing electrical circuits at the desk in her bedroom—but she’s thankful for the experience this summer research internship provided.

kerri-czekner_headshot.jpgAfter the off-campus internship she’d secured with Frederick National Labs was canceled, Czekner was awarded a Mount Fellowship stipend to purchase equipment and perform 64 hours as a research assistant for the creation of a spectrophotometer using Arduino technology with faculty advisor and Associate Professor of Chemistry Garth Patterson, Ph.D.

This summer, from June 18 to August 7, she worked at home on a self-directed project that including weekly meetings with Patterson and two other students working on other instrumentation-based projects.

“Kerri developed a research project on her own, focusing on creating a portable instrument for the food and beverage industry that is capable of measuring color intensity and hue,” Patterson explained. “Not only was it completely her concept, but she executed beautifully. She was able to conceive of the idea, plan the project and execute—resulting in data that demonstrates direct success and over the course of a very short summer. This quality of work is difficult to achieve under “normal” circumstances, but to do so in a summer that we were only able to meet remotely and that required her to work with tools available at home was stunning.”

The Spectrophotometer & Arduino Technology

Her research project was to “build a specialized spectrophotometer to scan wine samples and automatically calculate color intensity and hue, combining scientific theory, electrical skills and programming,” she explained. “The spectrophotometer I designed and prototyped would potentially be a low-cost and simple alternative to commercial spectrophotometers for winemakers or enthusiasts.”

Daily tasks were divided into two categories: programming and hardware. With programming, she learned how to write code for the Arduino, a small computer used to coordinate the activity of a variety of electrical components like LEDs. With hardware, she learned how to wire those electrical components including creating electrical circuits, calculating resistance and soldering.

Learning Outcomes & Inspirations

Czekner’s previous experience was limited to her physics classes and labs so each day was a learning experience. “I’ve learned how to build more complex circuits, how to work with electrical components and prototyping equipment and how to solder. I also learned how to code in Arduino IDE (based on the C and C++ programming languages,” she said. “I am particularly excited about developing this skill, as programming language is increasingly valuable to scientific research.”

In fact, Czekner believes her summer internship reinforced the basics of electrical circuitry and Ohm’s Law she learned in classes with Professor of Chemistry Danny Miles, Ph.D. and Dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics Kraig Sheetz, Ph.D.

“Having worked in Dr. Mills’ lab for the last three years, I’m sure his penchant for rigging up his own reactors and other equipment influenced the project as well,” she added. Assistant Professor of Chemistry Isaac Mills, Ph.D. is known for his sustainable approach and his creative endeavors.

What She Did Last Summer

Last summer Czekner worked with Mills on a chemical synthesis project, synthesizing and purifying known and novel phyrylium molecules for potential use in solar fuels research. Last summer she also completed an Art Sketchbook course in Florence, Italy, and attended the Venice Biennale.

Lessons From COVID-19

“I would hazard a guess that most students feel the same, but this time has been full of disappointments for me. However, I do think it taught me an important lesson in adaptability and working with what you have. When my internship with Frederick National Labs was canceled, I quickly realized I had to come up with a backup plan. Thankfully, Mount Fellows was there to help with funding and Dr. Patterson was willing to advise. I had never before worked with electrical engineering, and was quite excited to see how it can be helpful in the chemistry lab. Overall, even though COVID-19 has been quite devastating in so many ways, it has taught me resilience, introduced me to a new and interesting field, and perhaps most importantly the importance of keeping in touch with family and friends.”

Future Dream Job

“I plan to earn a Ph.D. in medical research, and am particularly interested in oncology. Recently, I’ve been reading oncology research coming out of labs in Milan, Italy, so I think my dream job would be in one of those labs.”

When asked to speak to Czekner’s ability, Sheetz commented: “Kerri has the kind of intellect and discipline that you rarely see at this level. I am very confident that I’ll be reading about her scientific contributions to the world someday…probably sooner than later.”