Chemistry Major Chosen for Scholarship to Pursue Graduate Work at Oxford

For 175 years, Albion College has been helping people prepare for professional life. In Laura Pollum’s case, Albion has provided the research opportunities, diversity of classes, and mentorship she needed to land an opportunity of a lifetime at the University of Oxford in England.

A chemistry major and physics minor from Ubly, Mich., Pollum has landed a Clarendon Scholarship – Wolfson College Graduate Scholarship that will provide a full scholarship and a living stipend while she pursues a doctoral degree in physical and theoretical chemistry. While there, she will work under the direction of Professor Tim Softley to research cold chemical reactions.

“It is hard to describe (how I feel about this opportunity) because it doesn’t feel real, but I am obviously very excited,” Pollum said. “(Professor Softley and I) exchanged e-mail for several months. He suggested a couple of funding opportunities and scholarships, including this one.”

Just seven percent of the applicants received the Clarendon last year.

Pollum explained the research as new work which combines chemistry and physics. “It is very basic research aimed at understanding chemical reactions,” Pollum said. “The main goal of the work is to understand the physics of chemical reactions at low temperatures and hope to extend that knowledge to chemical reactions at warmer temperatures.

“It is truly novel work, and as a researcher, you can hardly ask for more than that,” she added. “I hope to push myself as hard as I have at Albion, and I can’t wait to get started on the project.”

When she talks about pushing herself, Pollum rattles off a list of experiences that includes FURSCA-funded research with Albion chemistry professor Lisa Lewis and National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates programs at the University of California, Irvine and the Graz University of Technology in Austria.

Pollum also credits Albion’s faculty for developing challenging classes that have changed her approach to problem solving.

“I have had the opportunity to take classes from strong mathematics and physics departments in addition to chemistry,” Pollum said. “I have learned to approach problems systematically at Albion and have developed intuition about mathematical, physical, and chemical problems.

“Albion has opened a lot of doors,” she added. “I have several mentors here who have provided guidance and encouragement. I have had people making sure I’m on the right track in terms of research experience and preparation for graduate school. That’s one of the things I’ve gotten at Albion that I might not have had at a bigger school.”

Pollum will receive her Albion degree May 8, and her first term at Oxford begins Oct. 10. She said she will look for some research opportunities this summer, but she plans to use the bulk of the five-month break to enjoy family and friends before embarking on the three-year experience abroad.