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The Cool Factor of Crystals

By Trisha Coder

Ask Drew Craddock '21 what he did during his summer vacation, and his response will likely surprise (and impress) you. The chemistry major spent the summer manipulating molecules in Whitworth's new crystallography center, the first of its kind in Spokane.

Craddock worked alongside Hugh W. Johnston Professor of Chemistry Kraig Wheeler, who spearheaded the quest to bring a single-crystal X-ray diffractometer to Whitworth.

The X-ray diffractometer can determine the molecular and atomic structure of a crystal, allowing scientists to identify matter like salt, quartz, insulin, penicillin and DNA. Chemists and other scientists are already using the equipment for drug delivery and to determine how viruses bind cells and cause infection. Such research may even one day yield a cure for the obstinate common cold.

Whitworth purchased its diffractometer through grants from the National Science Foundation and the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County. The crystallography center gives Whitworth chemistry students a significant advantage over their peers throughout the nation.

"This equipment is not typically available to undergraduates," Wheeler says. "It's an opportunity to explore areas they've never dreamt of."

The center also supports a unique partnership between Whitworth and Eastern Washington and Gonzaga universities. Instead of sending samples out to determine the particular structure of a crystal, students can now do that work right in the center.

Craddock, who plans to become a pediatric dentist, says crystallography research has implications for his future career.

"In the case of a chipped tooth, we now have ways to be able to put the chipped piece back on," he says. "But it's possible that this kind of research could allow us to have even better methods or find better materials that bind the tooth properly."

Along with majoring in chemistry, Craddock is pursuing minors in philosophy and theology. He says the bonds created at Whitworth between students and professors have helped him develop into a more virtuous person, and he's now equipped to navigate the moral dilemmas that can arise in science.

"When we get into scientific quandaries, I can step in and say, 'Maybe this isn't the healthiest thing for us to be doing,'" he says. "Having those critical conversations of 'Why?' instead of just 
'How?' have been of utmost importance to me, and Whitworth does a phenomenal job of that."

This story appears in the fall 2019 issue of Whitworth Today magazine.

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In July Whitworth will host the 2020 Pacific Northwest Summer Crystallographic Institute for selected undergraduate students and their faculty mentors. Learn More

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