Building a Research Portfolio

As a student at Central High School in Springfield, Missouri, Dylan Fowler got his first taste of independent research through the International Baccalaureate (IB), an extensive educational program that helps students develop a variety of skills for the future. Fowler soon found that research was something he really enjoyed, and when he made the decision to attend the University of Missouri, he knew research was going to play a major role in his collegiate career. 

Now a junior at MU, Fowler, a double major in chemistry and math, was recently honored for his research endeavors as a Goldwater Scholar. He was one of four Mizzou students to earn the honor.

“Hearing that I received the award, as well as our other applicants, was really exciting,” Fowler said. “It’s great to be recognized for my research accomplishments, and I’m glad to be able to continue to pursue similar experiences. This scholarship is going to open numerous doors for me as I build my research portfolio.”

Dylan Fowler

The Goldwater Scholarship is one of the most prestigious national scholarships in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States. A total of 413 scholars were named this year, from an estimated pool of 5,000 college sophomores and juniors.

Fowler has been working in the laboratory of Kurt Brorsen, an assistant professor of chemistry in Mizzou’s College of Arts and Science, since the beginning of his sophomore year. Brorsen’s lab is a computational and theoretical group that is focused on applying and developing new quantum mechanical methods. 

“I applied to the lab not really knowing anything about computational chemistry,” Fowler said. “Dr. Brorsen gave me a book to review and a couple of coding projects. I found out pretty quickly that I it was something that I was going to enjoy.”

Fowler said that the Brorsen lab is currently focused on multicomponent methods that include nuclear quantum effects in quantum chemistry calculations. Fowler added that his primary role is with coding inquiries.

“My very first project was what we call benchmarking calculations,” he said. “I took some code that older students in the laboratory had been working on and applied that code to test sets of small organic molecules, like water. The goal with that work was for the sake of us getting some efficient proton affinity calculations so that we could see how well our computational method was performing.”

Fowler added that he has continued to code throughout his time in the Brorsen lab. 

“We don’t have a lot of that traditional bench space, with a bunch of chemicals, Erlenmeyer flasks and beakers – those traditional types of chemistry research items that you typically think of,” Fowler said. “Instead, I use a couple of high-performance computing servers that are operated by Mizzou, called Lewis and Clark. I use Lewis and send it jobs to perform that essentially involve taking a large matrix and trying to find molecular orbital coefficients that make the big matrix diagonal.

“In practice, I spend a lot of time writing and debugging code.”

Fowler, who is pursuing the Honors certificate at MU, participated in the Cherng Summer Scholars program last year, where he worked with Susan Lever, an emeritus professor of chemistry. It was during that program that Fowler was connected with the Office of Global and National Fellowships. He worked with that office throughout the Goldwater application process.

“It was really helpful to have a group of people who understood the entire process while I went through the application,” Fowler said. “They were very supportive, and I really appreciated their guidance.”

Fowler participated in the Student Training for Advancing Research (S.T.A.R.) program, created by the MU Office of Undergraduate Research to provide students with numerous research-related workshops. Along with his research endeavors, Fowler also tutors fellow chemistry students, serving as a student supervisor at the Learning Center. He said he hopes to eventually get his PhD in theoretical chemistry. 

“I’m not entirely sure where I want to take things, but I’m excited that the Goldwater Scholarship is going to provide financial assistance as I continue to conduct research,” Fowler said. “As I begin to apply for graduate school, these types of accolades are going to be very helpful in the pursuit of my career goals.”