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Richter Scholar Program turns 25

In 2016—its 25th year—the Richter Scholar Program has become a signature study and research opportunity that sets Lake Forest College apart.

Forty-two rising sophomores worked on projects, such as digitizing a church, analyzing a 15th century Egyptology manuscript, and studying the world’s response to the Iran nuclear deal. They worked one-on-one with two dozen faculty members on projects spanning all academic areas, including art history, biology, English, economics, and music, to name a few.

Working with Assistant Professor of Religion Ben Zeller, Julianne Mauriello ’19 and Kristin Rawlings ’19 produced a 360-degree virtual reality tour of First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest viewable online and using a Google cardboard viewfinder. They even created a video documenting the four-week process. Rawlings’ older sister was a Richter and the program “definitely influenced my decision to come here,” she said.

Danielle Sychowski ’19 has her sights set on a career in research and admits discovering she could work in a lab the summer after her freshman year was the “tipping point” in choosing Lake Forest over other colleges. “One of my main goals was Richter,” she said. “Day one freshman year I had my eye on it.” The 10-week Richter spent her summer researching molecules and mechanisms to combat Parkinson’s Disease.

Rebecca Shoup ’19 spent four weeks testing which paper, paint, and binder work best to show under drawings in artwork when using an infrared light and a modified webcam on her Richter project with Associate Professor of Chemistry Dawn Wiser.

“This opportunity benefited me in getting used to how a lab works and what it’s like to work one-onone with a professor,” Shoup said. “I also got to know other students and their research. Because I was a Richter, this experience might open doors to work with other professors who are doing research that interests me in the future.” That’s exactly what happened to Wiser’s previous Richter students who helped create a new Chemistry of Art course, offered for the first time this summer. Because of their experience in Wiser’s lab, Samantha Miller ’17 and Daria Polyarskaya ’18 are now working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nilam Shah, who specializes in art analysis and is working with the Art Institute of Chicago to identify pigments and dyes in cultural heritage material.

“The students did a lot of research last year looking at how to make pigments and how they’re dissolved and what’s in them,” Shah said. “That’s really helpful this year, when they’re actually characterizing pigments.” Once they’ve figured out how do identify pigments, the team will get real samples from the Art Institute to see if they can determine when the artist painted the piece and how best to protect colors.

For Professor of Psychology Matthew Kelley, who has worked with several teams of Richter scholars over the years—even co-authoring a published paper with three of his former researchers, the summer program plays a pivotal role in his research.

“Richter Scholars come in with unique and unbiased perspectives, and they help me to identify and challenge the assumptions I make in my research,” Kelley said. “Some of my more creative projects began as Richter projects.”