Forever True, For Iowa State

The stepping-stones to becoming a researcher

The research Iowa State senior Alex Leffel performs in Professor Theresa Windus’s chemistry lab isn’t what one typically envisions – there are no test tubes of volatile substances – but it’s just as potent.

Alex’s research is on the computer, studying chemicals and molecules “too tiny and dangerous” for the lab. “Computational science has a role in pharmaceuticals, medicine, industry and governmental agencies like the Department of Energy,” he says. For example, “it’s being used in ongoing research into how COVID interacts with the body. It’s not an exaggeration to say it is changing the world.”

It’s rare at Tier I universities for undergraduate students to be involved in such important research. But Alex is getting that opportunity as the recipient of the Jonathan and Susan Rich Undergraduate Research Scholarship in Chemistry.

“It was my first stepping-stone to becoming a researcher my freshman year, as well as a teaching assistant, a mentor and now potentially to be included as an author on a paper. I want to contribute what no one but a computational chemist can do. That’s my passion.”

Donors to the Forever True, For Iowa State campaign provided critical support to enable more students like Alex to work with world-class faculty researchers on some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

As for Alex, he says receiving the Jonathan and Susan Rich Undergraduate Research Scholarship in Chemistry changed his life.

“The scholarship has allowed me to focus on my research,” he says. “It has allowed me the time to work on a scientific paper with top researchers. It gave me the confidence I needed to become a teaching assistant and a peer mentor. I can’t imagine what my academic life would have been without it. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t even begin to cover the appreciation I have.