2006 Goldwater Scholar from Oregon, Grinnell College

Sarah Parker’s first semester of organic chemistry at Grinnell College in 2004 was an instrumental moment: she was “blown away” by the fact that students could create models of reaction mechanisms and use their models to predict the outcomes of real reactions. Fast-forward a dozen years, and you’ll find Sarah—a 2006 Goldwater Scholar (Oregon)—serving as senior researcher at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, where she designs and provides technical support for heavy-duty diesel engine lubricants. She also engages in fundamental research programs, where she conducts the same type of modelling and prediction that so inspired her initial commitment to organic chemistry.

Sarah describes the Goldwater Scholarship application as the first time she wrote a “real” research proposal; the practice subsequently paid off for her as a doctoral student at Harvard University, where she developed a platinum catalyst that can perform a common chemical reaction, the addition of a Si-H bond to butadiene, with very unusual selectivity. (Technically, the reaction is 1,2-hydrosilylation.) To her knowledge, the catalyst she developed is still the only selective 1,2-hydrosilylation catalyst for dienes. Sarah admits that having complete strangers say, at conferences, “Oh, that was your paper!” is a pretty remarkable feeling.

While at Harvard, Sarah also founded and served as first committee chair for the Boston Women in Chemistry Symposium. At the symposium, now in its fifth year, students from Boston-area universities gather for poster sessions, short talks, and networking events, encouraging inter-institution collaboration and interaction.

At Grinnell, Sarah received the Archibald Prize (for the senior with the highest grade point average) and Chemistry Alumni Prize in 2007. She then embarked on a Watson Fellowship for a year of independent travel and marimba study throughout Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. While at Harvard, Sarah received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (2009), Derek Bok Certificate of Distinction in Teaching (2012), and Christensen Prize for Outstanding Research (2013). She credits numerous faculty and research mentors for supporting and encouraging her scientific interests.