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Student Spotlight: Rachel Cantrell

Rachel CantrellRachel Cantrell, member of the Ryan Looper Lab, is not only a gifted chemistry student, but a skilled sharpshooter, and has been competing in Olympic-style pistol competitions for over 7 years. “I decided to continue marksmanship during college because it serves as a way to ground myself.” She says. “While I love to study and learn, marksmanship helps me take a step back from school and clear my mind. At the level I compete at, marksmanship revolves around the mental game. Essentially, I have my best matches when I enter an almost meditative state and focus solely on the present moment. It really helps me relax while also helping me develop stress management techniques that I can then apply to school and life.” Cantrell is also president of the U of U Marksmanship Club and member of the University Pistol Team, and recently achieved the title of National Junior Champion in the Winter Airgun Championships, one of the main national competitions for Olympic Air Pistol. Competitors can win quotas for Olympic Team bids and, before Olympic years, this competition serves as a selection match for the Olympics. “This was my last year competing in this event as a Junior.” Says Cantrell. “After placing second on Day One, I was able to pull out a victory on Day Two and become the overall Junior Champion. I shot one of the best finals of my marksmanship career. I also had the opportunity to participate in a brand new team event, and I had an overall great time at the competition.”

Aside from training her mind to focus on the target at the range, Cantrell trains her mind in the study of organic chemistry in the lab. Her favorite subject so far, she values being able to connect the concepts she learns in class to the work she does in the lab. “As far as research goes, the majority of my work has been in antibiotic isolation, either of specific organic molecules or of novel compounds. I am also starting an organic synthesis project, and I can already tell that I am going to really enjoy synthesis.”

Cantrell enjoys the variety of activities available throughout campus, such as farmer’s markets and guest speakers at the Union Ballroom, but also likes to attend events specific to science, such as seminars and Frontiers of Science lectures. “There’s always something to do.” She says. “It’s fascinating to hear about research projects from around the world, and I would highly encourage other undergraduate students to attend the seminars.”

Cantrell writes fiction novels in her spare time, particularly sci-fi and fantasy, and hopes to publish one day. She also enjoys drawing and photography, and is a big fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel.  Her interest in science has always existed, and an education in chemistry seemed to fall naturally into place. “The more I study chemistry the more fascinating it becomes. I especially enjoy the puzzle solving nature of organic chemistry, with the chess-like aspect of anticipating future ‘moves’ in order to arrive at the desired product. I want a career that will be both challenging and interesting, and I believe a career in chemistry will do just that for me.”

Last Updated: 6/3/21