Chemistry Alumni


Research Experience Helps Medical Student

Westmont alumnus discovers his year-long work with a chemistry professor made him a better thinker.

Mg74MK4_9306When Aaron Barnes '12 enrolled at Dartmouth Medical School, he wondered how he’d compare to classmates from Ivy League schools. “I soon realized I was more prepared than most of them,” he says. “The education in the sciences I got at Westmont was top-notch.”

A double major in biology and chemistry, Aaron states the summer research he conducted with Professor Kristy Lazar Cantrell '00 gave him an advantage few medical students could match. “I learned great scientific technique and how to assess a problem and come up with solutions and a logical approach. I also honed my research skills with scientific literature by reading dense research reports.

“Ironically, I discovered that research wasn’t for me, affirming my interest in medicine and greater interaction with people.” Cantrell’s long-term project studies peptide folding with possible applications in combating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Aaron received a stipend and housing for his work in the lab. “It was my job for the summer, and that made it feasible,” he says.

Aaron and his wife, Juli, a nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital, enjoy New England people and culture, even the weather. They grew up in Alaska and hope to return there.

“Medical school is the busiest and hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I love it,” Aaron says. He wants to work with his hands in orthopedics or a surgical specialty. “I look forward to using my profession every day, whether here or abroad, to help people.”

Returned to Westmont to Teach

As a student, Dr. Kristi Lazar Cantrell ’00 says the unique living and learning environment at Westmont shaped her life.

Dr. Lazar

“Being a part of this community is special,” she says. “I felt blessed to have four years here to devote my time to learning and growing as a person. My professors encouraged me every day.”

Ten years later, Cantrell, assistant professor of chemistry, returned to Westmont, seeking to impart a joy for learning. “I hope my students feel motivated to apply themselves, embrace the material and learn to think about the world in terms of God’s handiwork,” she says.

Cantrell, who earned a master’s degree at Princeton University and a doctorate from the University of Chicago, returned to Westmont as a visiting assistant professor in January 2010 and began her tenure-track position this fall.

Her area of expertise is in protein aggregation, including the deposits of misfolded proteins thought to be responsible for many degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. For ten weeks every summer she mentors two Westmont undergraduate research students. Recent students focused on the aggregation of protein models of apolipoprotein A-I, a protein that helps remove cholesterol from the body. “I’m interested in delving into the structural level, trying to figure out what the protein looks like in the aggregate,” she says.

Cantrell credits President Emeritus David Winter for her decision to enroll at Westmont in 1996. On a cold, rainy day in Visalia, Calif., Winter visited Grace Community Church to talk about Westmont to prospective students. “There was a very small turnout,” she says. “I was a junior in high school and had never heard of Westmont, but after meeting him I got so excited about the college. He is an amazing person.” After applying and attending Preview Days, Cantrell met Allan Nishimura, professor of chemistry. “That was very special as well, and I knew this was the place I was going to study,” she says.

Cantrell recalled her initial encounter with Dr. Winter as he spoke at the dedication of Winter Hall in May 2011. “I was standing there listening to him at the ceremony, thinking about God’s provision, the meeting at my church and how that led me back here as a professor,” she says. “It was moving to reflect on that, to see this new building and Dr. Winter’s legacy.”

Dr. Cantrell enrolled at Westmont with the intention of becoming a pharmacist, but after conducting research in the chemistry department, her professors encouraged her to attend graduate school. She undertook two years of postdoctoral research at Genentech Inc., a biotech company, before applying for the Westmont teaching position.

“I worked as a teacher’s assistant while I attended Westmont, and I always dreamed about teaching,” she says. “I reread my prayer journal recently, and I mentioned it would be wonderful to teach at a place like Westmont. It’s a little surreal.”

The Right Chemistry

Christopher Aubuchon ’94 never expected to go to college.

Chris AubuchonAdept at working with his hands, he spent his high school years playing sports, fixing his truck and doing construction. When a friend’s parents encouraged him to go college, he applied to Westmont and USC at the last minute. Much to his surprise, he got into both schools and decided on Westmont.

“Westmont changed my life,” Chris says. “My professors inspired me to study science, and I decided to go on to graduate school. I was a grease-monkey jock, but I became an academic. Going to Westmont was the smartest decision I ever made.”

Chris not only entered a doctoral program in chemistry at Stanford, but he achieved one of the highest scores on the university’s placement exams that year. After graduating, he co-founded Exajoule, a company that designs MicroElectroMechanical systems (MEMS) components for manufacture. To recognize his accomplishments, Westmont has honored him as Young Alumnus of the Year for 2004.

“I have a passion for innovation,” Chris says. “My long-term goal is to teach and to be creative in a scientific way.” His company has obtained multiple patents for the optical MEMS components he has invented. Fellow alumnus A. Scott Carlson ’94 started Exajoule with Chris. Their products include devices used in business and home-theater projectors and televisions.

Chris also loves teaching and interacting with students. His goal is instilling a love for learning and science, which is what chemistry Professor Niva Tro did for him. Chris taught students at Stanford while he was working on his degree, and he hopes to get back to the classroom someday. “I want to be a teacher who invents on the side,” he says.

Chris likes people as much as he likes technology, and he combines both interests as director of technology at Church of the Chimes in San Jose, Calif. His other interests include sailing. “I have a frenetic personality,” he says. “I enjoy lots of different things.”