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Skyler Warf ’24 wins best poster at ACS

Chemistry Professor George Shields with Sky Warf ’24.

Last updated April 12, 2024

By Tina Underwood

Skyler Warf ’24 never imagined she’d win an award at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans. She briefly stepped away from the poster session floor for a break and nearly missed her name being called as winner of the ACS Poster Award in Computational Chemistry.

“It was super flattering and unexpected,” said Warf who presented a poster based on her work with Chemistry Professor George Shields, “Prebiotic Peptide Formation in Gas-Phase Atmospheric Nanoclusters of Water: From Glycine to Diglycine to Triglycine.”

The work was published last year with Warf as second author in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. The paper looked at how amino acids on primordial Earth locked arms to form the first peptides, small chains of amino acids necessary to form larger proteins that make up life.

The winning poster wasn’t the only one Warf prepared. She also presented a poster focused on research with Chemistry Professor Greg Springsteen, “Esterification of Carboxylic Acids using a Diverse Suite of Chlorosilanes.” The paper explores how to decrease the amount of chemical waste coming out of organic chemistry labs by identifying safer, cheaper chemicals that have a longer shelf life for conducting esterification, a chemical reaction in which two reactants (typically an alcohol and an acid) form an ester and water.

“This will save organic chemists time and money by not wasting chemicals that expire, and it will help the environment by decreasing waste flow,” Warf said. She expects to be first author on the manuscript, which will be submitted for journal publication.

Undergrads don’t typically work in multiple labs. But it turns out COVID constraints in 2020 made remote computational work with Shields more feasible. Wrapping up two years’ work under Shields’s mentorship, Warf decided to get exposure in a “wet” lab setting. That’s when she took a bench in Springsteen’s organic lab.

Meanwhile, Warf has big decisions to make about where she’ll pursue her doctorate as two R1 universities are putting on the full court press. She’ll leave Furman with a published paper, one in the queue, and mentoring experience as a senior in Springsteen’s lab. She’ll cap things off with a May Experience in the British Isles to participate in “Canterbury Trails: A Study of Pilgrimage.”

She said she’s grateful to be a part of the chemistry department’s “family-oriented culture.”

“My fellow senior majors will attest to this, too. We get a lot of support from the professors. They give you really difficult work, and they have incredibly high expectations, but it doesn’t come without support,” Warf said.

From interpreting figures or helping with other academic work to providing a listening ear about social struggles or even missing home, Warf said professors’ doors are always open. “That kind of care is so important in such a challenging major. That’s definitely got me through, I’d say.”

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