Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi

Dr. Mark Olson

An Outstanding Islander

Outline photo of Dr. Mark Olson

Chemistry in the Making

The echoes of techno dance music coming from Dr. Mark Olson’s laboratory are said to be “the sounds of chemistry in the making.”

It’s where Olson’s best and brightest undergraduate students suit up in protective lab gear to work in the University’s first fully-synthetic materials chemistry laboratory.

“We can literally make any molecule we can think of in this lab,” said Dr. Olson, assistant professor of organic chemistry. “The most important aspect of our work is we’re designing molecules that behave the way we want them to, essentially molecular switches that can be turned on and off like a light.”

His students are actively learning a variety of techniques – from nuclear magnetic resonance to dynamic laser light scattering – to study the properties of the molecules they create. At the same time, they are gaining valuable experience for in-demand careers in areas such as materials chemistry, environmental chemistry, and chemical engineering.

“My students love what they do,” said Olson, who received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2005 from the Island University. “At the end of the day, they have created a never-before-made compound that they can call their own!”

Currently, his team is developing smart detergents with a wide range of possible applications from environmental remediation to domestic usage, being used in the applications of everything from pharmaceutical to the petroleum industry helping clean up oil spills and fracking water.
Olson’s is the only lab on campus synthesizing metal nanoparticles and coating them with the molecules that his students make in the lab.

“When studying chemistry, it’s not enough to be book smart,” Olson said  “You have to have that hands-on component.”

Olson teaches the same concepts that he learned as a Ph.D. to his undergraduates, who will soon be published in several worldwide “high-impact” journals. He’s also reaching out to groups underrepresented in STEM areas, showing the endless rewards that come with hard work.
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