Oak Leaves

November 18, 2016

MU Senior Explores Scientific Talent

Zoe Vorndran

Tabitha Sutton, senior, has come a long way from watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Discovery Channel when she was a child. Sutton, a physics major with a chemistry minor, began working on her senior research project with Dr. Gregory Clark, professor of physics, in summer 2016 and continues working on it throughout the semester. 

Sutton became involved in the research project as part of the requirements for her science major, but also in a genuine interest to expose herself to researching. “Tabitha approached me with an interest in doing some summer research,” Clark said. “I had been working on a project that involved the need to grow some nanostructures using a low-cast, wet-chemistry method.  I had spent a good deal of time attempting to grow nanowires from different types of recipes that I had found in the literature, but with little success.  I thought that Tabitha’s chemistry background could really be helpful with this aspect of the project. Indeed, it turned out so, she had grown nanowires from solution within just a few weeks of the summer and continued to reproducibly do so.”

Sutton’s project focused on using probe microscopy and nanowires to collect quantitative rather than qualitative data. A probe microscope is an instrument used for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. Her research could possibly help to advance solar energy and increase the efficiency of energy. In order to collect the data, she had to create nanowires, little wires that conduct electricity, parallel to gold electrodes, in order to measure the accuracy of her results.
One of the most satisfying parts of her research was being able to grow nanowires parallel to the electrodes, an extremely difficult process, but vital to the results of the project.
Throughout the project, Sutton’s main frustration was the issues with the equipment she used. During the summer, she came across issues with technical problems with the microscope. However, the research has proven to be a professional stepping stone. “Research is something that I have considered for my career, and finally being able to do research re-insures me that research is what I want to do,” Sutton said. She will present her research to the physics board, the science seminar at Manchester, and at a research symposium.
Sutton’s goal after graduation is to go onto graduate school to study material science. This field involves a background in chemistry and physics because it studies the relationships of the microstructure of a material and is macromolecular physical and chemical properties. Sutton hopes to become exposed to many different types of categories within the broad field of material science in order to narrow down her field of study. She became interested in physics and chemistry because, as she says, it “applies to everything and material science is the link between them.” After graduate school, she hopes to continue researching.

Throughout Sutton’s career at Manchester, she has found Clark has been the most influential professor. He encouraged her, helped her gain confidence and pushed her to meet her potential in science. “I know Tabitha to have the strong work ethic, the patience and perseverance necessary as well as a good background in the required physics for the type of work I needed done,” Clark said. 

In general, Sutton feels that Manchester has been full of opportunities from clubs to academics. She loves the small-school feel with professors being able to devote their time to individuals. Outside of Manchester, her mother has always been there to help and support her.