Luke Thompson '03

Luke Thompson '03

Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Gettysburg College

It was decision day for Luke Thompson. The deadline for choosing a college had arrived, and after paging through catalogues, checking out websites, making campus visits, and talking things over with his parents, Thompson announced that he would be attending Denison. After a restless night’s sleep, however, he awoke to a change of heart. “Going to Denison just didn’t feel right,” he said. “My gut told me that Wooster would be a better choice.”

That was 16 years ago, and the former chemistry major has never looked back. “Wooster turned out to be the perfect school for me,” he said. “The faculty are amazing, and the I.S. program (Wooster’s nationally acclaimed senior undergraduate research experience) is extraordinary.”

Thompson, who graduated in 2003, returned to campus last week at the invitation of one of his former faculty mentors, Professor of Chemistry Judy Amburgey-Peters, to share his enthusiasm for Wooster and his knowledge about material chemistry, delivering a lecture, titled “Using Polymers to Control the Chemistry of Gold Surfaces.”

Thompson, who teaches general chemistry, physical chemistry, and materials chemistry at Gettysburg College, where he has been for the last five years, specializes in nanoparticle synthesis and processing, and chemical modifications of nanostructured and planar surfaces. In particular, he is interested in the unique optical properties of gold nanoparticles, which have a dramatic effect on colorslike those in stained-glass windows. He also looks at how these particles can be altered to do other things, such as specifically target cancer cells while avoiding non-cancerous ones.

Of course, Thompson was interested in talking about more than materials chemistry during his visit last week. He also wanted to share the value of his Wooster experience, which included several years as a member of the Scot soccer team; his relationships with fellow students, some of whom would become his closest friends; and meeting the love of his life, Pieta Horvath (Class of 2002), whom he was introduced to in Holden Annex as a sophomore and married in 2008.

“I’ve always looked very fondly on my time here at Wooster,” he said. “Because of the education I received and the opportunity to conduct research with faculty members, I’ve always felt really well prepared. I’ve also thought, because of I.S., that I was able to gain an early understanding of the importance of being able to communicate science effectively. That really helped me in grad school.”

Thompson attended the University of Illinois after graduating from Wooster and earned his Ph.D. in chemistry. He did several years of postdoc work there before accepting an invitation to join the faculty at Gettysburg, a place he really loves and hopes to stay. In fact, he will be up for tenure next year.

In reflecting on his time at Wooster, Thompson says that it was here that he learned to become a scholar and to embrace the tenets of a liberal arts education. “I wasn’t always the best student,” he admits. “There were times when I tried to cut corners, but several faculty members called me on it, and now I am a better person and a better professor as a result.” 

His final message to today’s student scientists at Wooster is this: “I.S. is an incredibly valuable experience. I firmly believe it is a way to become an informed critical thinker.” He concluded with these words of advice for the College’s chemistry majors, “Wooster has a fantastic chemistry program,” he said. “Take advantage of the resources here, and you will be very well prepared for whatever you decide to do next.”

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