I was given the opportunity to interview one of the most interesting members of the Department of Chemistry this last week: Dr. Ven Ney Wong. Although she is originally from Malaysia, Dr. Wong came to Grove City College three years ago as a professor. She primarily teaches the analytical and instrumental portions of the chemistry curriculum, which means she spends the majority of her time in her labs, using a variety of different instruments. Her background is in forensic chemistry, which came about after an internship at the Illinois State Crime Lab during her undergrad years at Southern Illinois University. While there, she helped to catalogue and publish the library showing the spectrum of different drugs, primarily through her work with a mass spectrometer.
Dr. Wong actually took me into her different labs while I was interviewing her, and I was able to see the instruments she uses with her students every day. The one we spent the most time at, and the one that she has the most experience with, was the mass spectrometer. Essentially, mass spectrometers show the mass of certain compounds, which can identify the “fingerprint” of compounds. One of the most popular labs she does with students is to test the amount of cocaine in various denominations of bills. They use different methods of extraction for various dollar bills, and then use the mass spectrometer to determine the levels of cocaine in the various bills.
During our tour of her instrument lab, Dr. Wong was able to show me a plethora of research projects that she is involved in at the school. One of the projects she is currently working on is in collaboration with a biology professor at Grove City, Dr. Stephen Jenkins. They are researching slave maker ants and studying how the chemical compounds of the different ants interact. She also showed me a project a student had started that was a breathalyzer that would change the color of a hydrogel if alcohol was detected. In class, she is working with students on making a lie detector that tests for skin resistance, which can show the urge to lie. She pointed out to me that a lot of the work they do in instrumental lab has a basis in forensics, since most forensics heavily relies on instruments.
Beyond all the exciting work she does with research and in her labs, Dr. Wong was able to offer a unique perspective on the atmosphere of Grove City, since she has such a different background. She commented to me how it was interesting to her to see the relationship between professors and students at Grove City. “It is more than just professor and student…the professors here do everything to help, in terms of career, time management… I think they journey with the students.” She noted how there is a lot of like-mindedness and similarity of lifestyles at Grove City that is very unlike anything else she has seen in her career. “If you’re a student who is looking forward to having a relationship and enjoying your time studying, learning, and wanting that extra push…we give lots of opportunities here.” It was evident to me in my interactions with Dr. Wong that she plays a big role in creating that atmosphere at the College. Almost all of her research she does with students, and she told me story after story about different things students have done. It is remarkable how much she could tell me about different students after only three years at Grove City, and I can only imagine how much more she will be able to recount in years to come.