North Central student first to earn nation’s only degree in chemical microscopy

Jul 14, 2015

When Marissa Bartz graduated from North Central College in June she became the first to complete the nation’s only program offering a bachelor’s degree in chemical microscopy.

Bartz enrolled at the College in fall 2011, when North Central and the Hooke College of Applied Sciences in Westmont had just announced a partnership to offer the nation’s only four-year degree in chemical microscopy. Chemical microscopy involves the use of microscopes to solve various chemistry problems, including contamination, particle identification and materials analysis.

Bartz, of Quincy, Ill., decided to major in chemical microscopy and minor in art history. She's pursuing a career in art conservation, applying her skills to analyze and retain the original makeup of valuable paintings and other works of art. She’s learning digital art conservation this summer while interning with Factum Arte in Madrid, Spain, using a 3D scanner to assess paintings. She’s also publishing a blog about her experience and plans to apply to graduate schools this fall.

“The combination of the liberal arts education at North Central and the unique class structure at Hooke College really gave me a one-of-a-kind way to address problems people encounter on the job,” Bartz says. “The liberal arts and science education at North Central showed me how different disciplines connect, and Hooke College showed me how theoretical knowledge is the basis for the practical solution to any problem.”

Students in North Central College’s innovative chemical microscopy program gain a solid liberal arts education during three years of study in the American Chemical Society-accredited curriculum. During their fourth year, students work alongside expert faculty at Hooke College’s 40,000-square-foot learning center. Many Hooke College instructors are senior research scientists at McCrone Associates Inc., internationally recognized as a leader in materials science.

In addition to pursuing careers like those held by characters in the TV show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” chemical microscopists are needed in fields such as pharmaceuticals. Skills Bartz has learned include how to analyze materials without contaminating them; how to quickly identify a variety of fibers and minerals based on their distinct chemical makeups; and how to isolate, manipulate and mount samples and then use highly sophisticated microscopes to analyze them.

“With the well-rounded liberal arts education she received at North Central College followed by the hands-on experience and practical knowledge that she received at the Hooke College of Applied Sciences, Bartz is extremely well prepared to proceed to graduate school or enter into a career,” said Jeff Jankowski, associate professor of chemistry at North Central College. Jankowski accompanies groups of North Central College chemistry students on field trips to Hooke College, where they met Hooke faculty and learn about work performed by experts.

“I’ve gained a lot of experience working side by side with professionals from different fields,” Bartz says. “The classes are generally made up of professionals who are already established in their specific field, such as forensic science, pharmaceuticals and many other areas. This allows the younger students such as myself hear about different positions that are available in labs all over the country.”

Bartz embraced the interdisciplinary nature of her chosen fields of study, blending the scientific nature of chemical microscopy with the liberal arts values of her art history minor. She presented her original research at North Central’s annual Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research in the spring and analyzed an abstract painting for her College Scholars Honors Program thesis.

“With her major in chemical microscopy and minor in art history, Marissa exemplifies one of the intentions of a liberal arts education to cross, if not break down, interdisciplinary boundaries,” Jankowski says. “Being a scholar in the humanities and the sciences, Marissa has not only studied and learned within both of these disciplines, but collectively applied her knowledge of them, letting one inform and influence the other. In this way, all fields advance.”