Industrial Strength Education
Washington College’s reputation for producing top chemists was just one reason Michael Giroux ’14 chose to pursue his undergraduate degree in Chestertown.
The chance to play basketball and study abroad in Australia sealed the deal.
This fall, Giroux joins an elite class of 11 first-year doctoral students in Johns Hopkins University’s chemical and biomolecular engineering program. With a major in chemistry and a minor in mathematics, he expects to follow the classical path of chemical engineering with industrial—rather than medical—applications.
“I always knew I wanted to pursue chemical engineering,” he says. “I took honors chem as a high school sophomore and AP chem as a junior. It was one of those things I was good at. It comes easy for me, and it’s hard for others, so I thought I might as well do it.”
When he applied to colleges, he threw a wide net.
“I was accepted to a couple of big schools for my undergraduate studies, but there wasn’t much chance of me playing basketball at a D-I school,” Giroux recalls. “Of the smaller schools where I was accepted, I liked the guys on the Washington College team the best. I knew I could end up doing chemistry anywhere, but I also wanted to play ball.”
As it turns out, Giroux gave up basketball in his sophomore year for the opportunity to study abroad. With his AP credits in chemistry, he could afford to spend a semester off campus without setting himself back academically. He and his roommate went to Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast.
“It was incredible,” he recalls. “I didn’t take any chemistry classes, but I did complete all of my distribution requirements in Australia. I took two philosophy classes, economics, and Spanish. And then we’d go to the beach every day.”
Back on campus, Giroux picked up where he left off in the lab of chemistry professor Anne Marteel-Parrish, undertaking a pioneering research project to find ways to decrease the hydrophilicity of zeolites so they can be used in new industrial applications. “Professor Marteel-Parrish was instrumental in my decision to go for my PhD,” says Giroux, who worked with the materials scientist on his senior capstone project.
“Within the last decade there has been significant advancement in the study of zeolites [nanoporous minerals that can be easily dehydrated and rehydrated] and their applications, including use as future-generation computer chips, environmentally benign corrosion-resistant coatings for aerospace alloys, and hydrophilic and microbiocidal coatings for gravity-independent water separation systems in space stations,” Marteel-Parrish explains.
Giroux’s approach was to try to attach different groups of atoms to the inside of the pores, so that water would have a difficult time penetrating.
“Michael never gives up, and his attention to detail will carry him a long way,” Marteel-Parrish notes. “He grasps new concepts very quickly, he can apply them successfully, he can write in a concise and precise manner, and his critical thinking skills are the hallmark of a successful scientist and leader. I have no doubt he will be taking his PhD project to the next level and will succeed beyond the expectations of his advisor.”