The World Health Organization still ranks tuberculosis as a leading cause of death worldwide. On the Butler campus, Associate Professor of Chemistry Jeremy Johnson is turning undergraduate research students into real scientists seeking new answers to halt the spread of TB.
Johnson’s lifelong enthusiasm for research has helped reshape Butler. He oversees all student research opportunities as Programs for Undergraduate Research committee chair, and he headed up the Butler Summer Institute for a year, giving him the chance to set up independent research projects for 30 students involving all six colleges on campus.
The Chemistry Department, his home base, has turned many of its lab courses into what he calls “classroom undergraduate research experiences” (emphasis on experience) and added chemistry courses taking new approaches to hands-on learning. In Chemistry and Community, for example, students design experiments for presentation to elementary and middle school students. In Study Abroad for Chemistry, students absorb the scientific background on energy, then explore a German city that operates solely on renewable energy.
Though the hands-on approach requires extra time and effort for both students and faculty, Johnson is unequivocal about its advantages.
“In research, you develop your own understanding of a problem, look at all the angles, then explain the outcome. It provides a picture of your intellectual ability that you can’t get from classroom opportunities alone,” he said. “We’ve seen significant strides in students’ development of critical reasoning skills. Plus, I find students become more invested. They can see the applicability of what they’ve learned in class, and they get excited to see the end results.”
As with their TB research, their results can extend far beyond campus.
“We have students who are looking for and making new derivatives of cholesterol medication for testing at a lab in Iowa. Our students are collaborating on projects with Dow Chemical and Eli Lilly. Next fall, we’re offering a new biochemistry major where we’ll be addressing such questions as whether cancer is curable. These are new ways we’ve built in for students to gain the research and other scientific skills they will need once they move beyond Butler.”
Johnson not only loves creating research opportunities for students. He considers it his duty. Coming from a small liberal arts college, he sought out Butler for its opportunity to interact closely with students.
“Part of being a faculty member is your service to the institution. I feel like I’m supporting the students and opportunities I want to see grow here,” he said.
Dr. Jeremy Johnson was recently named the Hershel B. Whitney Professsor in Biochemistry as a result of a generous gift from the estate of Hershel B. and Ethel L. Whitney.
The prestige and recognition of an endowed position helps the University attract superb scholars to campus and encourages exceptional educators like Dr. Johnson to remain at Butler.