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Carving a Bright Future

Musician off to Cambridge because of prestigious science award for undergrads

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May 26, 2010 | by Megan Fellman
"Creativity thrives at the intersection of science and aesthetics," says Kelsey Stoerzinger, a Churchill Scholar who will study physics at the University of Cambridge.

Hear Kelsey Stoerzinger perform on her oboe

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University senior Kelsey Stoerzinger, who plays oboe in the Philharmonia Orchestra, intended to major in music performance at Northwestern. But she switched to engineering as a freshman and since has conducted cutting-edge research on nanopyramids, authored her first peer-reviewed research paper (with another one in the works) and received a Churchill Scholarship, one of the most prestigious honors for American undergraduates in science and engineering.

Yet music is still central to this young scientist's life.

"Creativity thrives at the intersection of science and aesthetics," said Stoerzinger, who hand carves her oboe reeds from chunks of cane. "I draw on my experience of musical expression when working with chemists and biologists."

She has played for four years in Northwestern's Philharmonia (for non-music majors), is section leader, attends studio classes and has served as house manager of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall for three years. As program director for the University's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, she likes to introduce middle school girls to engineering by having them build and tune a guitar.

In the fall, Stoerzinger will head to the University of Cambridge to study physics. (Her undergraduate major is materials science and engineering.) Only 14 Churchill Scholarships were awarded this year; the scholarship provides one year of support for a postgraduate degree in engineering, mathematics or the sciences at Cambridge.

Stoerzinger took her first nanoscience class as a sophomore. "She was far and away the best student, both in understanding the material and in her hands-on work," said Teri W. Odom, who taught the course. "So I approached Kelsey and recruited her to my lab. She has been a very important part of our team."

Odom is associate professor of chemistry and Dow Chemical Company Research Professor in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She also holds an appointment in the department of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Stoerzinger has investigated ways to assemble gold nanopyramids in a controlled manner and is working on using nanopyramids irradiated with near-infrared light as localized therapeutic agents to help kill breast cancer cells.

"Kelsey is spectacular," Odom said. "She has been one of the most effective undergraduate students I've had in my lab. She is very conscientious and pays attention to details, which is extremely important. Kelsey makes the natural leaps or connections necessary to make progress in research."

Stoerzinger is particularly excited about conducting research at Cambridge using a helium-3 spin-echo spectrometer. The state-of-the-art instrument uses the electron spin of the helium atom to measure the surface of a material on the subnanometer length and nanosecond timescales.

After Cambridge, Stoerzinger plans to return to the United States to pursue a doctoral degree in materials science and then become a professor. Inspired by her love of plants and nature, her goal is to focus on renewable energy, including harvesting the power of the sun.

Topics: People