Research and Path-Making at William & Mary

By Chris Hettwer ’21

One thing that I knew I wanted to become involved in as an incoming William & Mary freshman was student research. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find a research lab that aligned with my interests, let alone get into a lab as a freshman. Upon looking into some of the research opportunities offered at William & Mary, I found tons of labs spanning from biological sciences to political science to music theory. In most cases, entry into the lab is very simple and professors are more than willing to meet with you and discuss your interests to see if their research would be complementary.

A lab space with a variety of tables, computers, equipment and wires.

This is the laser spectroscopy setup for the lab, equipped with pulse and probe lasers, a cavity ringdown, and a VMI chamber. The setup allows our team to explore the kinetics and dynamics of fundamental atmospheric reactions.

I decided to join Professor Kidwell’s laser spectroscopy lab in the Chemistry Department to learn about the environmental implications of various molecules in the atmosphere. We collect data on the photoionization effects of various wavelengths on reactions-of-interest that occur every day in the atmosphere. In addition to learning about molecular cluster dynamics and how lasers work, I have gained tremendous experience in the research process and collaboration with colleagues. This insight inspired me to take on a secondary major in Environmental Science and accept an internship with the W&M Office of Sustainability to apply my skills and knowledge to efforts on campus to reduce carbon footprints. The professors in the Chemistry Department, as well as every other department on campus, are extremely enthusiastic about their research and passionate about how they engage with their students. My experiences working with professors have been overwhelmingly positive and highlights a distinctive element of William & Mary; they are eager to guide students and provide supple mentorship to ensure future success.

To incoming freshmen curious about how to get involved with research on campus or how to figure out their undergraduate path, be patient. I had no idea what I wanted to do during my freshman year, and still don’t have a perfectly clear idea as I approach my senior year. However, each opportunity will lead to others and each experience will clarify your path. Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can to make the most of your college experience.

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