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Engineering a Successful Future

Eric Palermo '20

Eric Palermo ’20 

After taking an analytical chemistry course, Eric Palermo ’20 secured a part-time position at an analytical chemistry lab in Carlisle. He also conducted student-faculty research on the health benefits of broccoli, and he’s pursuing a degree in chemical engineering through Dickinson’s 3-2 engineering program.

Hometown:

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Major:

Chemistry.

Clubs and organizations:  

We Introduce Nations at Dickinson (W.I.N.D., former secretary) Dickinson Science Magazine (former writer and editor), CommServ/Habitat for Humanity (former coordinator) and Alpha Lambda Delta Honors Society.

Honors/scholarships/awards:

Innovation Competition at Dickinson (second place finalist), John Montgomery Scholarship and Ernest A. Vuilleumier Scholarship and the Wellington A. Parlin Science Award.

Favorite book:

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

Favorite movie:

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

On choosing Dickinson:

I decided to attend Dickinson because it had the strongest study abroad program of all the schools I was looking at; in high school, studying abroad in college was my top priority. Ironically, once at Dickinson, I decided to pursue the 3-2 program for engineering, leaving me no time to study abroad. Still, Dickinson’s emphasis on a global community and its large body of international students have led to some amazing friendships that I have had since day one at Dickinson, and I hope they will last a lifetime.

Favorite place on campus:

The Dining Hall.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Savory black beans.

Favorite class/learning experience:

My favorite learning experience is working part-time at Carlisle Construction Materials, in their analytical chemistry lab. In my first year at Dickinson, I took an analytical chemistry course that introduced me to all of the concepts that I use nearly every day now, between the research I do at Dickinson and the work I do at Carlisle Construction Materials. While taking that class, not too much of it stuck with me, since I was still beginning my education as a chemist and could not see the broader importance of the concepts taught in that class. Now, I have not only strengthened my knowledge of analytical chemistry but have gone even further than what was taught in class.

As I kid, I wanted to be …

… a dishwasher, since I always found cleaning dishes to be a therapeutic task. Luckily, I got enough experience with cleaning dishes to satisfy me through the jobs I worked throughout high school. Now whenever I feel the desire to clean something, I always can clean the glassware in the chemistry lab.

Post-Dickinson plans:

I will attend Columbia University to receive a second bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, as part of Columbia University’s Combined Plan program. After graduating, I want to pursue a career in industry for a few years before applying to graduate school to obtain an advanced degree in chemical engineering.

About my internship and summer research:

I work at Carlisle Construction Materials, a local company that develops materials and technology used in construction. I work in the analytical lab within their research & development department, which means that I used techniques in chemistry to analyze the chemical components within the construction materials they manufacture. By determining the chemical components in the materials produced, I help the company ensure that the products they sell to consumers will perform exactly as expected. I’m continuing to work there during the summer.

I’m also conducting my own independent summer research project. I’m trying to find the best chemicals to add to PVC (a plastic found everywhere in daily life, including pipes, roofs, clothes, clothes, furniture and more) that optimize the plastic’s performance while reducing its negative environmental impact.

About my student-faculty research project:

I worked on an interdisciplinary research project with Professor of Chemistry Amy Witter and Professor of Biology Tom Arnold. Studies have linked a certain chemical compound in broccoli, called sulforaphane, to reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and even certain cancers. I worked with Professor Arnold to grow fresh broccoli sprouts, spraying them with different chemicals as they grow to increase their ability to produce sulforaphane in greater amounts. Then I worked with Professor Witter to extract the sulforaphane from the broccoli and determine exactly how much of it the broccoli contains. The main goal of this project is determining how we can grow broccoli so that it can yield the greatest health benefits when consumed.

Little-known hobby/talent:

I can make my body wake up when I want to without an alarm clock. I set an alarm clock just in case, but if I go to bed knowing I have to wake up at 7:45 am for my class in the morning, I will wake up at 7:43 am, just in time to turn off my alarm before it goes off.

Most important thing I’ve learned so far:

From my work and research experience, I have learned that courses at Dickinson are not meant to make students absolute experts in the subject. For me, classes are meant as an introduction to a concept and a springboard into mastery for any subject that I choose to study further. I’ll continue to learn during on-the-job training, as I specialize my studies doing research in graduate school or at a job. No matter what field within chemistry I choose to pursue after Dickinson, even if it is a field that I have never taken a class on, I am confident that I have the foundational knowledge and strategies for learning that will allow me to excel in any subject area.  

In a perfect world …

I try not to get too caught up with hypotheticals and thinking “If only …” My belief is that the way the world is at this moment is perfect because it cannot exist any other way. Of course, the world can and will change, but whatever form the world takes on in the future will be perfect, just as the present is perfect as it is. This view is not an excuse for complacency, and we should always push ourselves to look for ways to improve the lives of ourselves and those around us. But whether I fail or succeed, I can always fall back on the comfort that in this moment, everything, including all of the good and bad, is how it should be.

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Published July 15, 2019