200 Days in the Life of the College

Saturday, October 30

Real research means independence and mentoring

By Rebecca Behrens ’11

Pauline Wafula ’13 took a distinctive route to Hamilton. She arrived from Kenya through the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, which offers girls in Africa scholarships to U.S. colleges.

During her first year, Wafula became interested in chemistry and math and, while studying summer research opportunities, was drawn to Assistant Professor Camille Jones’ offering in physical chemistry because of its mathematical foundation. In the summer of 2010, Wafula’s research with Jones focused on the capacity of particular salts to stabilize gas hybrids called clathrates. Clathrates exist at the bottom of oceans and are of interest to scientists because the molecules they carry can store energy. Stabilizing these structures could make them a viable alternative energy source. This Family Weekend she is presenting her research at a special poster session.

Wafula had to figure out much of the research methodology herself, which she initially found frustrating but, in the end, extremely rewarding. The independence allowed her to grow intellectually. She now feels capable of conducting research on her own and is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Jones, who offered support and guidance.

Despite her strong chemistry interest, Wafula plans to major in economics and minor in mathematics. She’s not sure where it all might lead, but Hamilton’s emphasis on undergraduate research and one-on-one faculty mentoring has greatly affected her. “At the end of my four years,” she says, “I will not only leave with an academic degree but also with the life experiences that inspire me to be a great woman in the world.”