What is it like studying chemistry at LSU? For Carson, it’s like peering into the mirrors of a state-of-the-art laser system and helping develop new non-invasive diagnostic tests for treatment of chronic illnesses.
Welcome LSU 21' students! As we enter a new academic year, we are highlighting some of LSU's most outstanding current students, prospective students, alums, graduate students, faculty, researchers and staff here on The Pursuit! Hear from them what it's like to be a part of the LSU community, from studying abroad in Alaska, to starting a business after graduation, to conducting groundbreaking chemistry research.
Today we are featuring Carson Szot, a senior studying chemistry at LSU. All last year, Carson conducted research with Dr. Kermit Murray’s lab in the Department of Chemistry at LSU, working independently to code software to operate a translation stage system for laser ablation sampling of tissues. Using focused infrared light, laser ablation can capture delicate samples such as DNA from a variety of surfaces.
Carson is also the recipient of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Scholarship in Chemistry.
LSU College of Science: What is your background? What inspired you to pursue chemistry in college?
I have lived in Baton Rouge my whole life. Over the summers when I was younger, I often participated in BREC summer camp programs where we would learn about Baton Rouge culture by visiting LASM (Louisiana Art & Science Museum) and other historical sites. I had several science experiment books, and I was usually willing to take apart or disassemble anything, from knots in ropes to old computers!
I got into computers when I helped control the lighting for my high school theater using computer controls. Using computers to control systems helped me understand that precise and technical controls play an important role in experiments. Most scientists will agree that automatic processes can do much more than manual processes in some experiments.
My STEM classes were always more entertaining to me than other courses, but I didn’t always perform best in my STEM classes, save geometry (I actually had to repeat a math class one summer).
The STEM class that I most excelled in during high school was chemistry. Back then I decided that chemistry was my preferred blend of physics, math and biology. I was convinced chemistry was the central science. When I decided to go to college, LSU Chemistry was an intuitive choice.
LSU College of Science: When did you first realize you liked chemistry?
Carson: I remember one time in my high school chemistry class, our instructor asked us to solve a dimensional analysis problem about baseball velocity on the board. Not yet knowing how to solve the problem, I apprehensively said “I’ll give it a swing.”
I was able to solve the problem with some critical thinking and the number of feet in a mile.
LSU College of Science: What does your typical day look like?
Carson: I’m a scorpio and my stubborn habit is starting the day with the most unpleasant things first. For a few years now, that means I wake up and get out of bed before thinking about staying in bed longer. When up, I’ll usually do something arduous before something pleasant.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” - Mark Twain
LSU College of Science: This summer you participated in a co-op program between LSU and Acadian Diagnostic Laboratories to help develop a urinalysis service to screen for antidepressants and antipsychotics. Can you tell us about that?
Carson: Acadian Diagnostic Laboratories (est. 2012) reached out to the LSU Chemistry Department Chair, scouting chemists for their new internship program. I got information by word of mouth, from connections I made in Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS), and followed up on the lead. Acadian Diagnostic Laboratories uses analytical chemistry to confirm compounds in patient samples. They provide testing services for clinical diagnostic purposes using mass spectrometry. My project involved development of a new panel testing for antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs.
The company was excited to have a student intern from LSU. I was their first student intern, so we worked hard to set a precedent that other students could follow and benefit from in both academic and industry settings. I received research course credit for my work on method validation for the analysis of compounds in human samples.
My advisors at Acadian Diagnostic Labs also helped me develop scientific communication skills such as creating multimedia presentations, poster presentations and written reports. I began learning how to navigate Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) policies within the healthcare industry.
LSU College of Science: What is your favorite thing you've worked on or studied as a chemistry student at LSU?
Carson: My honors general chemistry lab course was an excellent experience for me. We were able to design our own experiments. I believe it is very important to exercise creativity in science, and that innovation thrives on creativity. Critical thinking skills I developed in this lab course helped prepare me for a research assistant position.
LSU College of Science: What's one fun/interesting/quirky thing about you? What are your hobbies?
Carson: I try to watch as many different movies as I can, instead of re-watching favorites.
I also enjoy outdoor exercise and activities. I have been involved with the scouting program a long time and was even offered a position as program manager for a local Boy Scouts of America summer camp (unfortunately I wasn’t able to take it, however). I attained the rank of Eagle Scout in high school and have worked many summers and weekends developing my own and others’ character.
One of my favorite activities is rock climbing – it’s both physically and mentally challenging. Climbing is like a high stakes puzzle solving session.
LSU College of Science: What's the craziest or strangest thing you've done "for science"?
Carson: I did an HPLC-MS/MS of my own urine to detect drugs I don’t take to create a blank sample.
LSU College of Science: What do you love most about chemistry? What excites you most about doing science on a regular basis? What challenges do you face?
Carson: Incredulous questions can be challenging and exciting. Questions and a resulting hypothesis can make you feel as if your sight can be set forward to a larger goal, but sometimes you must turn away to address a new observation. This cycle can be treacherous, so victories merit a rewarding optimism.
LSU College of Science: Can you tell us a bit about your undergraduate research in Kermit's lab? Can you tell us about a surprising or particularly interesting scientific finding?
Carson: I began working in the Murray research group after my first year of college. I consider undergraduate research to be the most important aspect of the chemistry curriculum at LSU. I remember being uncomfortable attempting to market myself as a valuable asset to researchers I didn’t know at LSU, but time was my ally. When I started working with Dr. Murray, he asked what would I prefer to work on and then parsed the research project according to the nature of the work. This is a common tactic - many researchers will speak in terms of working on a computer, working with digital parts, working with mechanical parts, working with chemical solutions (sometimes compared to cooking), etc. I wanted to learn a new skill. I ended up working on something alien to me, so the scientific method was my only skill!
LSU College of Science: What do you wish you'd known or done differently as a freshman at LSU?
Carson: As a freshman, I wish I would have already known the best pen to use: .5mm black gel!
Learn more about LSU Chemistry here.