Peter Miedaner Plays the Long Game to Make the World Better
Peter Miedaner turned down a couple of attractive job offers to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We asked him why, along with a few things about his time at UVA.
Why did you choose to start your Ph.D. program now, as opposed to taking a job?
I have always loved being in a lab, and I especially love being at a university where everyone is so passionate about learning and discovery. I also am extremely interested in the theoretical side of chemistry and how it relates to fundamental questions of the mechanics that direct our universe. That kind of work is done largely at universities, and is a major part of a Ph.D.
What do you want to do with your degree?
I hope to be able to study the fundamental aspects of our universe while also using new knowledge to develop cleaner and more effective energy technologies.
Who or what were your major influences while at UVA?
I picked up a number of different mentors and role models while at UVA. My research advisor, professor (of chemistry Charles W.) Machan, was a great influence on my development as a scientist. My organic chemistry instructor, professor (of chemistry and biomedical engineering) Cassandra L. Fraser, really grew my love for chemistry. Likewise, a number of different chemical engineering faculty, such as professor (Rachel A.) Letteri and professor (Robert J.) Davis, not only got me excited about chemical engineering, but were always there to offer advice when I sought it out.
What was your undergraduate research topic?
I was an undergrad researcher in the Machan Group in the chemistry department. Broadly, the group studies and develops novel electrocatalysts that can convert common gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide into usable products such as carbon monoxide and water. My specific project was largely focused on a cobalt complex that has shown a high selectivity for reducing dioxygen to water as opposed to hydrogen peroxide. This type of selectivity has a broad range of applications, from improving fuel cell lifecycles to understanding biochemical pathways.
What are some of your honors, awards and activities during your time at UVA?
Awards: American Institute of Chemists Student Award, Bicentennial Scholarship; Blue Ridge Scholarship
Activities: Pancakes for Parkinson’s annual fundraiser, logistics
Internships/employment: Two summer internships at ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, refinery; undergraduate researcher in the Machan Group; teaching assistant for organic chemistry and process safety; academic tutor for the School of Engineering
Why did you choose UVA Engineering?
I chose UVA Engineering because I loved the student life here and I knew it would be a premier educational experience. Also, the weather is gorgeous, and the Grounds are beautiful.
Why did you choose a degree in chemical engineering?
For a long time, I have seen our energy system as a major benefit and detriment to society. It has drastically improved our comfort of living, but continues to harm the environment and our health. Chemical engineering is a major field for people who want to make a difference in this area. I also have always loved chemistry, physics and math, and chemical engineering is a perfect blend of the three.
Why are you glad that you chose a degree in chemical engineering?
I am glad I majored in chemical engineering because I have already had positive impacts on our society. At Exxon, I was a part of a number of projects that drastically reduced carbon footprints, and in the Machan Group, I was a part of a recent publication on a new catalyst that could improve renewable energy storage.
What was the best part of your education at UVA?
I love how personal and available the professors are with the students.
What’s been the worst thing about the pandemic’s effect on your college experience? How did you make the best of it?
A lot of my favorite traditions at UVA were canceled, such as Lighting of the Lawn, football and basketball games, and going out on the Corner. I made the most of the situation by just taking the time to get really close with my roommates, staying active by playing basketball with them and learning how to keep myself entertained.
Where is your favorite place on Grounds? Why?
My favorite place is the Lawn, for obvious reasons.
Where/what is your favorite local spot or activity to get away from the pressures of work and school?
My favorite local spot is the Charlottesville Skate Park. I am a huge skateboarder, and this park is brand new and massive, which is just so awesome.
What is your favorite UVA memory?
Winning the men’s basketball national championship and the road up to that final game was surreal.
What will you miss most about UVA after you graduate?
I am definitely going to miss all of my friends, both the really close ones and the ones I only see once in a while.