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Alex Thomas Breaks Ground with Science, Math Research Opportunities

June 12, 2014

Alex Thomas

Rose-Hulman Legacy: Alex Thomas is the son of 1974 Rose-Hulman alumnus Steven Thomas, an engineering supervisor for the Ford Motor Company. (Photo by Terry Miller)

Alex Thomas pushed the limits of science and mathematics during his inspiring undergraduate academic career at Rose-Hulman that has been admired by professors and industry experts throughout the world.

His love of problem solving resulted in a groundbreaking discovery that, in many cases, improves upon the Durbin-Watson mathematical model used worldwide to detect autocorrelation, a statistical concept. He will present his findings in August before a meeting of international mathematicians in Boston.

As if that wasn’t enough, Thomas’ chemistry research on modeling the liquid crystalline properties of type-I collagen was featured earlier this year at the national American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas. He stood alongside graduate students and professors in the Division of Biotechnology’s professional poster session.

“Professors were impressed with my knowledge of such a complex chemistry topic, and thought my project was completed as part of a doctoral thesis. They were surprised to find out I was only a college senior,” he says. “I found common ground with some of top researchers across America. They wanted to know more about what I had been doing at Rose-Hulman.”

Thomas accomplished these research discoveries while completing course requirements to earn bachelor’s degrees in chemistry AND mathematics, along with a minor concentration in Spanish. He also found time to be a tutor for Rose-Hulman’s Learning Center and play video games with friends.

These accomplishments were not surprising to his Rose-Hulman professors, who enthusiastically encouraged his undergraduate research initiatives.

Alex Thomas Chemicals

Young Researcher: Alex Thomas, a 2014 graduate in chemistry and mathematics, presented his research projects alongside doctorate students and universities professors at national conferences. (Photo by Dale Long)

“Alex became an expert on protein structure as it pertains to Type-I collagen. I was just as excited to see what he learned as he was,” says Professor of Chemistry Luanne Tilstra, one of Thomas’ research advisors. “What made his project so much fun was that Alex went the extra distance to connect the physical pictures to the mathematical relationships. This requires a depth of understanding combined with a skill at making practical applications. Alex is very capable in both of these areas.”

His mathematics thesis advisor, Associate Professor of Mathematics Mark Inlow, adds, “Alex is an outstanding, hard-working student whose research is well beyond his years. He is an excellent example of how Rose-Hulman can help a student ‘be all he/she can be,’ to borrow the old U.S. Army slogan.”

Thomas has known since age 8 that he wanted to become a neurosurgeon. His science and math research at Rose-Hulman, along with coursework, has emphasized that mission. The next step in his journey begins this fall at Indiana University’s School of Medicine campus in Fort Wayne.

“I like research. There’s something about doing something that’s new and groundbreaking that excites me,” he says. “Rose-Hulman gave me the opportunity, academic background, and work ethic to get it done.”

Those campus research efforts were supported by Rose-Hulman’s Independent Project/Research Opportunities Program and the Summer Undergraduate Research Program [http://www.rose-hulman.edu/iprop.aspx]. He earned the best presentation award at this year’s Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Mathematics Conference, received the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s 2014 Research Award, and represented chemistry students in presenting his research at the department’s Board of Advisors meeting this spring.

“I wanted to attend a college that would push me academically and I could get actively involved in the creative process. I don’t know if I could have done this much at any other college. Rose-Hulman and its faculty put no limits on my ambitions. They encouraged me to do my best work, and that’s what I did.”