Josie Shirah ‘22 on the Power and Beauty of Chemistry and Math

Josephine “Josie” Shirah ‘22 has an enduring passion for science and math that she’s ready to put into action. Her appreciation for the harmonious balance between math and chemistry began in high school when she realized studying these fields allowed her to explore and interact with the world in a unique way. Now, Shirah, a senior in URI’s College of Arts & Sciences (A&S), is preparing to graduate in May with a double major in Mathematics and Chemistry. During her undergraduate career, Shirah found an exceptional opportunity to cultivate her appreciation for her studies as an A&S SURF Special Fellow. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) offers devoted students the opportunity to engage with science through hands-on research projects while gaining professional development training. “It was a great experience,” Shirah says. “I was able to participate in research throughout the summer and participate in the conference at the end, which was a lot of fun and definitely helped my communication skills and learning how to communicate science.”

Shirah says that her research undertakings as a SURF fellow offered her insight into how “chemistry pushes the boundaries of science and you can use it to help solve problems.” Specifically, as part of her fellowship she studied how to make pharmaceuticals more efficient to offer smaller doses to patients. She also researched how to contribute to solving the energy crisis by looking at solar cells, hydrogen materials, and storage development. While her chemistry major may have received more specific attention during her fellowship, Shirah notes: “The mathematics degree supports the chemistry degree, and I can use it to think about problems in a different way and very logically.” Shirah also notes a special insight to the power of math that her faculty taught her: “Math is beautiful, you just have to go deep enough into it to see the beauty of it, that everything can be proven in math and you can construct a logical proof for everything in math.”

Perhaps most important to her experience, as someone underrepresented in STEM fields, she says: “In both chemistry and math, I’ve never felt treated differently being a woman or looked down to for being a woman.” Although Shirah has tentative plans to continue her learning in graduate school for a Ph.D. in Chemistry, she is in no rush after two long years of college during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the summer, she hopes to travel to the Pacific Northwest or even go backpacking with a friend as a well-deserved break. Ultimately, she hopes to share her love for math and science with the next generation. “I definitely always see myself doing scientific research. I see myself teaching. I want to be a research faculty somewhere. I want to teach more students and share the love of chemistry,” she says.

~Written by Sabrinna Fogarty