SFU Undergrad Researcher: Leea Stotty

Introducing Leea Stotty of the Departments of Physics and Chemistry!


Name: Leea Stotty
Major: Chemical Physics
Year: Third
Supervisor: Dr. Jeffrey Warren of the Department of Chemistry

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I do know that I want to do something that combines technical skill with creative thinking, however at this point I don’t think that I am fully aware of the extent of the opportunities that will be available to me as a Chemistry/Physics undergraduate. It’s my goal to really focus on figuring that out over the next few years remaining in my degree.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I have always enjoyed lab work and was eager to get a job in a lab.  After taking a class with Jeff Warren; I approached him about a volunteer position and he got me started on a project right away; I volunteered over the spring semester and he gave me a summer research job.

Q: What are your research interests?
A: As I am at the beginning of my research career, my interests are still fairly general. I really enjoyed the focus on alternative energy and electrochemistry in Jeff Warren’s lab, and would love to do research in fuel cells ─ on top of that, I am also very interested in both electromagnetism and nuclear chemistry. I’m in the process of developing my programming skills and will be seeking an opportunity to exercise them in a lab setting; all in all I am very open minded to any interesting projects that come my way.

Q: What is your research about?
A: The research I did with Jeff Warrens group was testing a copper based water oxidation catalyst; we found that, in basic solutions, this catalyst reduced the overpotential of the oxidation of water; this reaction is important in fuel cells and the storage of solar energy.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: I was performing electrochemical experiments, trying to pin point the best conditions (pH and concentration) for the formation of our copper based catalyst. Once these conditions were found we wanted to know how much oxygen was produced via electrolysis as a metric for the efficiency of this catalyst. Typically, my day would start with the preparation of various solutions and set-up of whatever electrochemical experiment I was to carry out. I would prepare electrodes and glassware and ensure my reaction cell was set up optimally. Once my solutions and equipment were ready to go, the cell would be assembled and I would carry any final experiment prep. As I ran my experiment I would usually perform some data analysis on matLAB or study similar projects to ours. The last 15 minutes of my day was usually spent cleaning up or organizing things for the next day. That was probably my average day, although other days were spent doing focusing on UV/VIS spectroscopy, NMR, or EPR experiments, preparing figures or writing sections of our paper and organizing the lab.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favourite course so far has also been the most difficult; Introduction to Electrodynamics (PHYS 321) starts at the building blocks of electro and magneto statics and ends off with Maxwell’s Equations of Electrodynamics; I’ve always found this subject infatuating and I love the math-heavy description of it. It was definitely the most challenging class I have ever taken, although it turned out to be equally as satisfying in the end.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: One of the chemistry based facebook groups I follow posted a picture of a formadahyde molecule and then beside it the same molecule in shorts and a t-shirt with “casual-dehyde” written above it. It’s so ridiculous and gets me every time.


Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: If I had to choose the instrument I am most alike to I would say the centrifuge because I am usually rushing around from place to place in the lab, and at some point in the day my head will be spinning!

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Does Matthew Mcconaughey playing the role of a scientist count? No, I’m kidding. I would have to say Marie Curie is my biggest science crush. Even without regard to the obstacles and restraints she had to overcome her achievements are extremely impressive. She discovered two new elements and developed radioactive theory, the ultimate bad-ass!

Q: What’s the funniest thing in the lab that’s happened to you?
A: Obviously, we aren’t supposed to bring food or drinks into the lab, but I used to always hide my coffee behind the computer I was working on so I could keep myself caffeinated as I carried out experiments. One morning I left my fresh coffee in the lab while I went to run a quick errand. When I returned, my coffee was gone and in my tired state I couldn’t recall what I had done with it. I spent a good amount of time looking all over the lab, disgruntled and un-caffinated, all the while trying to hide the fact that I was looking for my coffee. I finally gave up and went to get a new one, when I returned to the lab I spotted my original coffee high on top of one of the cabinets.  Turns out Jeff hid my coffee from me all along. Lesson learned!

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: My biggest fear is investing a lot of time into a project only to discover that I was wrong all along. I’ve heard that this does happen to many researchers, sometimes after several months of experiments. I had my own scare when my oxygen monitoring experiments were proving very difficult, I was terrified that maybe our catalyst wasn’t actually doing much catalysis. I guess investing in any research is always a gamble and that is something that I will have to grow to accept.

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