Junior Wins Prestigious National Scholarship

Monday, April 30, 2012

Christine Franzel, an Agnes Scott College junior majoring in mathematics and chemistry, has been awarded a 2012 Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious national scholarship awarded to outstanding science, math and engineering students.
Christine Franzel
About 280 sophomores and juniors were selected nationally on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,123 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

Franzel, originally from Burke, Va., came to Agnes Scott unsure of which direction her passion for chemistry would take her. She said something clicked for her academically during an internship last summer with the National Institute for Standards and Technology. There she worked with researcher Dr. Bülent Akgün to study polymer brushes (polymer chains attached at one end to a surface). She measured the glass transition temperature, the point when polymer transition from a glassy, brittle state to a soft, rubbery state, of polystyrene brushes.

Franzel was fascinated and started looking into whether polymer brushes might have biological applications. As it turns out, they do.

“When a cell approaches and tries to sit on the hydrophilic (water loving) polymer brush, it compresses the chains that make up the polymer brush and forces water molecules to leave, which is thermodynamically unfavorable, so the cell would be pushed off of the brush surface,” Franzel said.  “When we think of preventing bacterial infections, we think of antibiotics, which can lead to antibiotic resistance. But it’s a completely different idea to prevent bacteria from sticking—bacteria can’t develop a tolerance to a thermodynamic barrier.”

Franzel hopes to focus her future work with polymer brushes on improving their long-term stability, vital if the material is to be used for medical applications.

“Chrissy epitomizes a Goldwater scholar,” said T. Leon Venable, associate professor of chemistry and Franzel’s advisor. “She has an almost uncanny ability to tie together information from disparate sources and produce a coherent topic for exploration. As a researcher, the ability to exercise such creativity is essential for future successes. Keep an eye on her career.”

This summer, Franzel will be a research intern at the Office of Naval Research and plans to go on to graduate school after graduation to pursue a career as a chemistry professor.

“I would love to become a professor of organic chemistry. And I love seeing the applications of it in things like biomaterials,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to teach AND do research.”

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.