RIC welcomes organic chemist Dr. Kiesewetter

Samantha Scetta – Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Elizabeth Kiesewetter just began teaching organic chemistry at Rhode Island College this fall, but she is by no means a stranger to the subject.

Dr. Kiesewetter grew up in the midst of chemistry, as her mother is also an organic chemist . In a household where chemistry experiments are commonplace, chemistry becomes much less daunting of a subject. Even chemistry that focuses on mostly organic compounds.When Dr. Kiesewetter began taking organic chemistry classes as an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, she realized that organic chemistry is a class one really needs to think about how to study for–it is not a class for crammers. This is true for most sciences, especially when one is performing research.
Dr. Kiesewetter began her research as an undergraduate student, and is still in the process of getting her lab at RIC started. Her research focuses mainly on polymers (plastics) that have a variety of uses and applications.
Plastics are wonderful materials and have infinite uses, however they are polluting our oceans and most are not biodegradable. The end result of this is that plastic ends up everywhere– In our oceans, streets, backyards and sometimes in the food we consume.

Polylactide; a molecule used in biodegradable plastics

Some of Dr.Kiesewetter’s research focuses on biodegradable polymers, and how to design polymers to be the most cost efficient and valuable to consumers. “The polymers we make can be hydrolyzed- they react with water. When they react with water, they are able to degrade in oceans”. Dr. Kiesewetter highlighted an example of a common polymer, a polymer that is used in biodegradable coffee cup lids and commonly derived from corn. This polymer is known as polylactide, but is tends to be brittle so would not be able to be used for something like a milk jug.

In Dr. Kiesewetter’s lab, they work with polymers such as polylactide one but to try to change the chemistry of the existing polymer to synthesize a new and improved material.

Polymer research is an active and innovative field, and a field with plentiful job opportunities for young  chemists. Research on plastics is so important that The American Chemical Society has deemed that all undergraduate chemistry students must take classes that include information on polymer technology to graduate. This is definitely something to consider before you drop your chemistry major.

Organic chemists do have hobbies that, believe it or not, do not directly involve functional groups or resonance structures. Dr. Kiesewetter is an avid gardener and sourdough bread baker, she also enjoys yoga and going to the gym. She is certainly looking forward to getting her lab at RIC launched and hopes to be able to work with students. Dr. Kiesewetter ikes the fact that her organic chemistry classes are capped at 24 students because, in her words, “organic chem from a podium can be a hard sell to students”. Her advice to students taking organic chemistry would “Making connections to lecture and lab can add a richness to the class and give a deeper understanding. Be patient with yourself too. Organic chem is like a puzzle, and you will solve it if you’re patient”.