William & Mary

From Metal Club to Norway's Black Metal: Meet Alex Gade '08

Alex Gade ’08 with a giant fish she caught in Norway."I decided in high school that I wanted to be a chemist," said Alex Gade '08.

She was inspired by her high school chemistry teacher, who had graduated from the same high school and gone on to major in chemistry at William and Mary. "He TA'd in the same lab room that I TA'd in." Alex is a teaching assistant in labs for Organic Chemistry I and II, helping students "synthesize different organic compounds." She teaches her students "basic organic techniques, such as separation, distillation, and recrystallization."

Dispelling the myth that chemistry is somehow better suited to men, Alex said, "The College has more girls than boys. So, as you'd expect, there's a higher ratio of girls in chemistry."

"The chem dept. is amazing," she said. "I love the chemistry department." Having done well on her high school AP exams, Alex was able to take CHEM 335, "Chemical Principles," with Professor Gary Rice, who currently serves as department chair. "I already knew I wanted to be a chem major, but this class convinced me again."

In the summer of 2006, Alex stayed at the College to work with Professor Chris Abelt. "Our department's summer research program is pretty unique. You find a professor you want to work with, and if they have research money, you can get paid to help conduct research with that professor." With Professor Abelt, Alex spent most of her time synthesizing xanthates and chlorothioformates. The results of their research were co-published as an article, "S-Alkyl Chlorothioformates from Xanthates," in Synthesis. Journal of Synthetic Organic Chemistry (2007, Issue 14, pp. 2097-2099).

Now Professor Abelt is advising Alex on her senior honors thesis. "I'm doing a model synthesis for cholesterol, focusing on one part of the synthetic method with an analog for the other parts of the molecule. My thesis is a synthetic study of the 3 six-membered ring moeity of the cholesterol nucleus. This compound is to be used for further syntheses, ultimately making fluorescent cholesterol analogs for binding studies with human serum albumin."

The equivalent of Rogers Hall in Uni Oslo.Alex studied in Norway, at the University of Oslo, in the spring of 2007. "It was one of the only countries with chemistry classes taught in English. This isn't possible in places like Germany, France, or Switzerland, because they have a history of Chemistry study in their respective languages. In Norway, they had classes that they taught in English by request, which they would normally teach in Norwegian. In one of my classes, all the notes were in Norwegian. I loved it. Norway is also the home of black metal, and I wanted to see the frozen landscapes that inspired the genre."

Not wanting to leave, Alex found a summer job and moved from Oslo to Tromsø. "Norway is beautiful in the summertime. I got a job as a lab technician at the University of Tromsø, working on protein crystallography. I had no experience with that part of chemistry. It was interesting, very different from the chemistry I'm used to. We grew crystals in crystal plates. We were also working with drug compounds that this company wanted to be tested, bound to different blood proteins."

The fjord in TromsøOutside the classroom, Alex was vice-president of the College's Metal Club for two years. "I think it's cathartic," she said of the music, "and it requires a lot of musical proficiency." The highlight of her tenure? "I instituted the Metal Club Bake Sale."

When, come May, she receives her degree, Alex is planning to go to grad school, but not immediately. "I've gotten into some programs, but I'm going to defer for a year, get money from the American-Scandinavian Foundation - I have a contact at Oslo doing synthetic medicinal chemistry. I submitted a project proposal, and hopefully they'll give me money to do research. I want to move there for a year, at least."

Once her education is finished, she aspires to work in the chemical industry. "I've made contact with a professor at the University of Oslo to work on a green chemistry project for next year. It involves the synthesis of biologically active molecules in environmentally friendly ways and in one-pot processes to attain better yields."