Chemistry and Biochemistry

Students Rise Above the Rest at Nevada Conference

Posted: Oct 20, 2011

Chemistry undergraduate students Kyli McKay Bishop and Alisa Edmund were both selected to receive an award at the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies (FACSS) conference October 3-7. Both students work in Dr. Paul Farnsworth’s lab doing analytical chemistry.

The conference, held this year in Reno, Nevada, “is an annual meeting that covers the whole of analytical chemistry with an emphasis on emerging technologies” and “has a proud tradition of bringing together leading scientists across many disciplines for scientific exchange,” according to their website.

Edmund won first place in her poster session, presenting the latest results of her research in how the composition of a sample affects the ion beam entering the mass spectrometer in an inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS). Inductively coupled plasma (ICP) is an ionization source often used in conjunction with a mass spectrometer to analyze samples. “For example, most water quality labs use ICP's to test for concentrations of toxic elements like lead and arsenic in drinking water,” Dr. Farnsworth said in an email. Edmund’s research provides fundamental understanding for people and companies who manufacture ICP instruments to improve their products, and by extension, the accuracy of their analyses.

“I was honestly kind of shocked [when I won first in my session],” Edmund said. “Not because I thought I did poorly, just because I wasn’t expecting it. … But Dr. Farnsworth was teasing us before the conference that we should win awards because it’s good research, so he was kind of vindicated.”

Along with being named first in her session, Edmund received a $400 cash award, sponsored by FACSS.

Dr. Farnsworth said it was unusual for undergraduate students to win a conference award because most conferences cater to attending graduate students, post doctoral students, and faculty. He was pleased to see his students recognized after the months of hard work and preparation they put in before the conference. “It is also nice to have the acknowledgement that others regard the work in our lab as interesting and of high quality,” he said.

A Colorado native, Edmund decided to study chemistry after she had a really good chemistry teacher in high school. “I think it’s really interesting,” she said. “I think the initial draw was I was good at it and it was in everything I did.” Edmund went to work for Dr. Farnsworth in January 2010 after being encouraged to get involved in undergraduate research. A senior, she’s already started to think about what she’ll do after graduation. “I would really love to do grad school.”

Bishop, a senior from Pleasant Grove, came to BYU as an exercise science major. She was interested in becoming a pediatric plastic surgeon, but changed her mind after she didn’t like the initial classes.

“I didn’t take chemistry in high school, so I didn’t know I had such an affinity for it,” Bishop said. “After taking two chemistry classes and loving them, I decided to change my major.”

She started working for Dr. Farnsworth in the fall of 2009, working in the Exploratory Lab as a Teacher’s Assistant before that. Bishop’s research also involves ICP, focusing on the changes in the plasma itself when samples differ in composition. She won a special award at the FACSS conference recognizing her as a student presenter. The award, sponsored by biotechnology company Monsanto, included $100 in cash.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Bishop said. “It was exciting – it made me feel really smart to be recognized.”

Bishop is currently working on applying for the Master’s program at the University of Utah and BYU. She said she hopes to get into BYU because she could continue working for Dr. Farnsworth.

“After that, I want to go somewhere else for a PhD,” she said. “It depends on where my husband goes to graduate school. I would like to continue to do research in academia, which means I’ll probably have to teach but I think I’d like that.”

Alisa Edmund and her poster 

Kyli Bishop and her poster

By Jessica Henrie

Photos courtesy of Dr. Farnsworth