Department News

Summer 2016

Donors Fund $1M Chemistry Research Grant

Westmont raised $500,000 of matching funds to complete a challenge grant from the John Stauffer Charitable Trust, endowing the chemistry department's summer research program. Income from the $1 patrickmillion endowment will provide a fellowship stipend each year for eight to ten students to work with chemistry faculty members doing full-time research during the summer. Since 2012, more than 40 individuals and more than a dozen foundations and corporations contributed to match the Stauffer Charitable Trust's gant and build the endowment.

Patrick Burree '17 is working under the direction of Dr. Amanda Silbersteinin the field of organic chemistry.

"Summer research at Westmont with Dr. Allan Nishimura taught me how to be a scientist and ultimatley persuaded me to pursue my doctorate in physical chemistry at Stanford," says Niva Tro '85, who has been teaching chemistry at Westmont for 26 years. "Because I was included as a coauthor on three of Allan's publications, I was able to gain admission into the best chemistry graduate program in the country."

Westmont has a long tradition of providing opportunities for students to partner with their professors on cutting-edge research. Some of the college's current faculty are products of this tradition, including Dr. Tro and Dr. Kristi Lazar Cantrell '00, Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Click here to learn more.Chris and Han

Chris Riba and Han Chumg freeze molecules and then move them around to make a rough surface as reflective as a mirror.

Summer 2015

This summer, eight Westmont students are working alongside four chemistry faculty members. Research projects include a broad range of areas, including biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, and physical chemistry, allowing the students to further engage with concepts learned in the classroom. Students spend approximately 40 hours per week on Chris Sueresearch-related activities for the ten week program. Students receive a cost-of-living stipend that allows them to focus on research full-time during the summer. Six of the eight students are funded by the Stauffer Summer Research endowment, and two are funded by a grant secured by Dr. Allan Nishimura from the Dreyfus Foundation.

Chris Sue '16 is studying the adsorption of phosphotungstic acid to silica surfaces modified with organic silanes. He is working with Nick Sovronec under the direction of Dr. Michael Everest.

Winter 2015

We start 2015 with good news for our Biology and Chemistry Labs.

The Fletcher Jones Foundation has awarded a $750,000 grant to Westmont College toward the renovation of the college’s biology and chemistry labs. The project will transform the Whittier Science building, built in 1985, from floor to ceiling, redesigning lab spaces to better accommodate research projects and encourage interactions between faculty and students. “One of our top priorities is providing young men and women with the best possible opportunities to succeed in graduate or medical schools and flourish in their science careers,” says Michael Everest, professor of chemistry and chair of the department. Click here to learn more.

Steve Contakes Selected For Oxford Science-and-Religion Project
Steve ContakesStephen Contakes has been selected as a member of the new Templeton-funded project entitled "Bridging the Two Cultures of Science and the Humanities 2015–16.” Twenty-five faculty members from around the world will participate in summer seminars at Oxford University aimed at developing interdisciplinary skills in science and religion. The project will also provide funding for new opportunities for students at their home institutions. This endeavor is a collaboration of Oxford University and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Steve hopes to aid “chemistry’s re-engagement with the faith-science dialogue," and has a special interest in how Christians approached chemistry before the modern era. Specifically, he is intrigued by medieval believers' “reflection on alchemical matter theory, which along with atomism and craft traditions, developed into contemporary chemistry.” Steve also just became a member of the advisory board for Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation.

Fall 2014

New General Chemistry Textbook

Niva Tro

Niva Tro, Professor of Chemistry, published his 5th textbook, Chemistry: Structures and Properties” (Pearson, 2015). In January, 2014, Pearson also released the fifth edition of his book, “Introductory Chemistry,” with an 'eText'. Michael Everest (chemistry) developed a companion workbook for the textbook.
Niva Tro loves teaching chemistry, but he wasn’t satisfied with the textbooks available for college courses. He then started writing his own textbooks. His first venture, “Chemistry in Focus: A Molecular View of Our World” (Thomson, 2001), has reached the sixth edition. Students at more than 70 colleges and universities use the book in classes for non-majors. Emphasizing the role of the molecular world in daily life, Dr. Tro demonstrates the relevance of chemistry by covering issues such as global warming, acid rain and drugs. The success of this book (2006) encouraged Tro to produce a second work, “Introductory Chemistry” (5th edition, Pearson 2015). In use at more than 220 institutions, the text is the best-selling volume for preparatory chemistry. He discovered the need for such a book when he taught at Pepperdine. As he did in the earlier book, Tro ties chemistry to current events and helps students understand the value of mastering scientific concepts. Clear writing and clever graphics make the text appealing. When “Chemistry: A Molecular Approach” (Prentice Hall, 2008) was released in the spring of 2007, the text drew strong and immediate interest The 4th edition (Pearson 2017) is available as of spring 2016. Tro attempts to meet the needs of both faculty and students by covering complex material in depth while striving to make it as easy as possible to grasp. “I set the bar high and then gave students a lot of help in mastering the content,” he says. “With support, they can reach a higher level of understanding.”

October 2012

NMR being used by student Aleah Bond and Professor David Marten

Junior Aleah Bond and Professor David Marten at the new NMR Spectrometer

Westmont has installed a new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer in the Whittier Science Building thanks to a $383,000 grant from the Fletcher Jones Foundation. The new 400 MHz spectrometer, which replaces a 300 MHz spectrometer that had reached the end of its 14-year life expectancy, allows researchers to peer into the molecular world and determine the structure of molecules.

“The chemistry department is feeling energized with the new spectrometer and a recent grant challenge match from the Stauffer Charitable Trust to endow our summer research program,” says Niva Tro, Westmont chemistry professor. “The new Fletcher Jones NMR will be an essential tool in our vital research program.”

The spectrometer is housed in the Fletcher Jones Foundation NMR Laboratory on the second floor of the Whittier Science Building. Since 1984, Fletcher Jones has given about $1.3 million in grants for other technology upgrades and research equipment, which have enhanced Westmont’s biology, chemistry, engineering and physics, and psychology departments. The foundation has also contributed $1.5 million toward the endowment of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts and to establish the rotating Fletcher Jones Foundation Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences.

The Fletcher Jones Foundation was established in 1968 by Fletcher Jones, cofounder of Computer Sciences Corporation, a worldwide leader in business technology. Following his untimely death in 1972, the foundation received the bulk of his estate. The primary mission of the foundation has been and still is the support of private, independent degree granting institutions of higher education in California.

Kristi Lazar Cantrell, assistant professor of chemistry, has used NMR extensively and has published her research in scientific literature. She uses the NMR with students in organic chemistry laboratories and in her research group to check the purity of chemicals in protein synthesis and purification. Westmont obtained the previous spectrometer when Cantrell was a student at Westmont. “We used the NMR frequently in class and during my undergraduate research,” she says. “When I entered graduate school, I was able to use the NMR there with little training, and I was thankful for the time my professors at Westmont invested to teach me this invaluable technique.”

July 2012

Challenge Grant from the Stauffer Charitable Trust
to Support Summer Undergraduate Research

The John Stauffer Charitable Trust has awarded a $500,000 challenge grant to endow the Westmont chemistry department’s Summer Science Research Program. The trust will match each dollar donated to the program through 2017 until the college is able to endow the program with $1 million.

“Summer research at Westmont with Professor Allan Nishimura taught me how to be a scientist and ultimately persuaded me to pursue my doctorate in physical chemistry at Stanford,” says Niva Tro, who has been teaching chemistry at Westmont for 22 years. “Because I was included as a coauthor on three of Allan’s publications, I was able to gain admission into the best chemistry graduate program in the country.”

In Nishmura’s 31 years at Westmont, he has collaborated with about 80 different students, co-authoring 95 published manuscripts.

“The grant secures the future of undergraduate research in the chemistry department at Westmont in perpetuity,” Tro says. “We manage to scrape our program together each year, but this grant puts it on secure footing and will even allow us to expand it a bit.”

If fully matched, the grant will fund housing and stipends for eight to 10 student researchers each summer. Currently, the college has the funding for three to six student researchers. “Science is best learned through apprenticeship,” Tro says. “When students do real research in a small group with a faculty member, they experience science from the inside. That experience is invaluable.”

The John Stauffer Charitable Trust, a private foundation based in Pasadena, was established in 1974 under Stauffer’s will. The trust directs its support primarily to Southern California hospitals, universities and colleges. In recent years, the trust has emphasized grants to fund student research in chemistry and biochemistry at such colleges as Westmont, Occidental, Harvey Mudd and Pomona.

Individuals may give by clicking here. Foundations may support the grant by going here. Please contact the director of foundation and corporate relations, at

Hannah Ryan, a 2012 Student Summer Researcher in Chemistry

had these comments about her experiences working with Professor Nishimura:

My summer research experience was truly impactful .... Research opened up my eyes to a world of creative and critical thinking.

I play the violin in the Westmont orchestra, and I realized that science is a lot like music. ...[R]esearch is the composing of science. It is the artistic expression of scientific minds... questioning, discovering, creating.

Confidence in my ability to think and explore has revolutionized the way I approach academics... and also my personal life. I am more engaged in my classes, and just have a general hunger for learning.


Other Publications

Chemistry professor Allan Nishimura has recently published several articles, coauthored by undergraduates: “Optical methods as probes of the surface dynamics during disorder-to-order transition in naphthalene adlayer on Al2O3 (0001)” in the Journal of Undergraduate Chemistry Research, with Tim LeDoux, M. A. Evans, Katie Howard, and April Louie, “Temperature dependent non-radiative effects in the disorder-to-order transition in cyclopentanone and cyclohexanone films on Al2O3 (0001)” in Thin Solid Films with Tim LeDoux, Jon Rea, and K. A. Martin, and “Dynamics of disorder-to-order transition in bilayers: Formation of van der Waals molecular clusters by percolation of p-diflourobenzene through water adlayer on Al2O3 (0001)” in the Journal of Undergraduate Chemistry Research, with J. S. Brigham, A. J. Bishop, and K. A. Martin.