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Graduate Student Highlight: Shannon McGee

14 June 2021
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Shannon McGee

Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights a graduate student who is doing interesting and exciting work within the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Shannon McGee, who is a third-year student in the Zarzar group.

Shannon’s research focuses on using laser synthesis methods for making inorganic electrocatalysts to form oxygen and hydrogen fuel from water, a process called water electrolysis. The Zarzar group is trying to study and understand how parameters within the laser synthesis method—such as power, precursor, and solvent type—can affect the material properties of their catalysts to increase efficiency and performance. 

This week, we met virtually with Shannon to discuss her life in and outside of the lab! Please enjoy our interview with Shannon McGee.

Question: How did you get interested in chemistry?

Answer: I became interested in chemistry in my first year of undergraduate education at Cedar Crest College, where I got involved in chemistry research focusing on extracting and using biomass chemical products with alternative energy applications. I fell in love with the research process (and the topic of sustainable/renewable energy) and continued from there. There's always something new to explore in chemistry, which makes it an interesting and fun field!

Q: What inspires you as a scientist?

A: I'm inspired by the dedication to innovation that is shared by people all around the world, especially when facing adversity, to create a better future for the coming generations. I believe the continual push to learn about how to advance our world while making things cleaner, more sustainable, and easier to provide for people is a great motivator for me as a scientist. 

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of? 

A: I recently published my first, first-author paper with the help of my great colleagues and collaborators! Writing, making the figures, editing (and re-editing, and editing some more...) with everyone and finally seeing the final version was so exciting and something I'm very proud of. Please forgive a shameless plug for the article here: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.1c00650. 

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Macungie, PA, a suburb outside of Allentown. A fun fact is that the name "Macungie" is derived from the Lenape term "Maguntsche" which can mean either "bear swamp" or the "feeding place of bears." You'll see lots of pictures of bears or storefronts with the word "bear" on them, but thankfully I've never seen a bear in real life! My family always enjoyed walking around the flower park and train station as well as the car shows that would happen in the summer.

Q: What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?

A: On my days off, I like to do yoga, catch up on some reading, and spend some time with friends and family. I like to finish the day and relax with a good meal and a movie! 

Q: If you could have dinner with anybody (living or dead), who would it be and why? 

A: I personally don't think I'd be able to enjoy a meal with a famous stranger (a celebrity, historical figure, or otherwise), as I'd be so anxious and focused on the person, I wouldn't be able to focus on the food! I'm a firm believer that a good meal should have good company, so I would pick a large meal with all of my family! Since the pandemic, we've all been a bit separated, so it's been a long time since we've been able to gather together as a big group (safety should always come first!). I love them so much and miss all of us being together, so I'm looking forward to the time when we are all vaccinated and can safely enjoy a meal together again! 

Bonus Question: Do you have any fun science trivia to share?

A: If Betelgeuse (a star in the constellation Orion) finished its life cycle and exploded—transitioning from the red supergiant stage to supernova—it would light our sky continuously for two months. Scientists predict it could happen anytime: within a couple of thousand years, tomorrow, or even as I'm typing this sentence. They predict it would even be visible during the day! I have my fingers crossed that hopefully we'll be able to see this astrological event in my lifetime!

Thanks to Shannon for these interesting and thoughtful answers! We hope you enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more graduate student highlights in the weeks to come!