Chemistry, physics major Stafford explores the unknown

Jamie StaffordNederland resident Jamie Stafford discovered her passion for chemistry in high school.

“My high school chemistry teacher made me really fall in love with the subject,” she said. “Chemistry makes sense to me. At the same time, it’s challenging. I like studying subjects that I understand, but ones that I also need to spend time with and really study into to fully comprehend the difficult concepts. Even though they are difficult, the knowledge is the goal in the end.”

Watching the science channel inspired the senior’s love for physics.

“Taking physics classes made me realize that it was something I wanted to pursue more,” she said. “Physics is a passion. I like to know how things work. Physics is a study of the fundamentals of nature. I really want to learn all of those fundamentals and understand concepts such as where stars come from.”

After taking an astronomy class, Stafford decided to add a minor in space science.

Jamie Stafford“I found reading the textbook and just learning about the subject matter to be very compelling,” she said. “I’ve always had an infatuation with looking at the stars. It’s always been intriguing, and I wanted to learn about how it all works. Also, space science goes hand in hand with physics.”

With fervor for pursuing the unknown, Stafford delved into undergraduate research, starting in spring 2013.

“Research allows me to learn something new everyday,” she said. “I get to do interesting and exciting work. I have the opportunity to research something that I don’t know about and perhaps something that no one knows about. Also, research can help me decide which options are available and which path is a best fit when I pursue my doctoral degree.”

A professor’s invitation to conduct research set Stafford on a journey that would lead to her presenting research.

 “I was so excited when Dr. Andino invited me to research carbon dioxide chemistry,” she said. “It’s a research topic that has an impact on the environment, and it is relevant. I was really interested in the topic, so I stayed with it for three semesters. I ended up presenting this research at the 247th American Chemical Society National meeting in Dallas as well as the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Kentucky.”

Stafford was given another opportunity to work alongside a faculty mentor and present research when taking an Honors organic chemistry class.

 “Dr. Lei presented her research in class, and she gave us the opportunity to work with her,” she said. “I wanted to continue research, and I knew that the research project I would be embarking on would be very different from the one I worked on previously. The first project dealt with computer modeling, and this project would be purely in the laboratory, doing reactions and collecting data from a laboratory sense.”

Stafford presented her research at Lamar’s 2015 Undergraduate Research Exposition.

 “My research deals with organic chemistry; specifically, I study cheaper and more environmentally friendly ways to make molecules that have applications in pharmaceuticals and material science,” she said. “I love working with Dr. Lei. She’s very knowledgeable in her field. Any kind of questions you have, she always knows what you’re asking.”

While Stafford is continuing her organic chemistry research, she is also embarking on a physics research project.

Jamie Stafford“I wanted to get involved in physics research to see how that would be, and I wanted to see how it’s different from chemistry research,” she said. “I knew it would help me decide what I want to pursue for my doctoral degree.”

As soon as she realized she was going to pursue physics, Stafford said she knew she wanted to work with Bogdana Bahrim, associate professor of physics.

“Once Dr. Bahrim told me that it would be possible to get the dual degree in physics, she invited me to do research with her,” she said. “Dr. Bahrim is awesome. She’s very knowledgeable, and we work well together.”

Last spring, Stafford decided to apply for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.

 “The first time I heard about it, I was convinced I was going to apply for it,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for those looking to go to graduate school. It’s a very prestigious award. It just seemed like exactly what I needed to make all my dreams come true.”

After being nominated by electrical engineering department chair, Harley Myler, Stafford was selected for candidacy and is considered a Goldwater nominee.

 “When you submit your application, they tell you that they received it and that they will know the results by the end of March,” she said. “When I didn’t hear anything, I was pretty sure I knew what happened. In the letter they sent me afterwards telling me I didn’t get it, the letter said to know that the nomination is still an honor, something to be proud of. I know everything happens for a reason. It just means something else will come up.”

Stafford plans to pursue a doctoral degree in either chemistry or physics with aspirations to teach at the university level.

“I think going into a university to teach and do research is the best opportunity for someone going into a research field,” she said. “I’ve tutored since seventh grade. It’s always something that felt natural. I feel as if I will be going into two things I have a natural aptitude for: research and teaching.”

During her time at Lamar, Stafford said her relationships with Lamar faculty have provided her boundless opportunities.

“The connections I’ve made with the faculty here have opened up a lot of windows for me,” she said. “The professors here really do care about the success of their students. My mentors have made me aware of potential opportunities that have helped prepare me for the future.”