Hilary Eppley’s interest in science research began as an undergraduate at Franklin & Marshall College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. Though her original plan was to study pre-med, just days into her freshman year she decided that she was more interested in research than in medicine.
She had hopes of becoming a professor from the time she started grad school at Indiana University. “I sought out opportunities to teach as a graduate student and as a postdoc because that was something I really wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to teach and do research with students.”
Eppley began teaching at DePauw in 1999. She’s an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
Conducting research with students continues to be at the forefront of her work. “Working with a student on a problem – because it’s something that they don’t know the answer to and that I don’t know the answer to – provides an opportunity to help mentor them through the thought process of how do you solve a problem in research and make progress on a project,” she says.
Eppley’s research focuses on a group of solvents called ionic liquids. “Ionic liquids are basically like table salt, only molten at room temperature,” she says. “They’re held together much less strongly than something like table salt but they’re made up of ions – positive and negative charges. And so you can use them to do reactions in because they’re liquids at room temperature. You can put starting materials in them and then hopefully end up with a product of some sort.
“In particular, I’m interested in making metal-containing materials of various sorts. We try to take syntheses that people do in water or organic solvents and adapt them for these ionic liquids,” she says. “And because the environment is very different and because these types of reactions are highly influenced by the environment around the starting materials, we hope to get new products in ionic liquids versus what we could get in the other solvents.”
That’s the ultimate goal: to make new stuff.
And more students are involved in doing just that. The chemistry and biochemistry department launched a process last spring to get more students into labs starting this fall to conduct hands-on research with professors.
“Most of us have quite a few students, including sophomores and juniors, some of whom have never worked on a project before,” she says.
When Eppley isn’t in the lab or the classroom, she’s most likely training for trail racing. She’s into long distances – really long distances – and has competed in three 50K ultramarathons and one 50-mile race. And then there’s training for the most recent race she qualified for: the Boston Marathon.