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Chemical researcher strikes a chord with double major

Holly Dinkel standing with her research poster.

Holly Dinkel stands with her poster “Modeling Burnup and Actinide Production of Thorium and Uranium Fuel Sources for Nuclear Power Systems” at the Spring 2015 Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Forum.

The worlds of chemical engineering and classical clarinet aren’t as synonymous as the latter might be with someone like Benny Goodman. But as a disciple of both subjects, chemical engineering rising senior Holly Dinkel finds the two co-exist harmoniously. One often serves as a much needed break from the other.

“In high school, I completed the international baccalaureate program and was really involved in math club,” she said. “But I didn’t want to major in math.”

“My math teacher encouraged me to look into engineering,” Dinkel said. “He brought in a mechanical engineering student from K-State (Kansas State University) to talk with some of us students.” The student dabbled in nuclear research, which appealed to Dinkel.

Dinkel decided to attend MU because it was one of only two schools she considered that offered engineering and music programs. She chose Mizzou over Washington University because of her family’s connection to the school. Several aunts are alumni, and her older sister Lindsey was a current student majoring in history.

“Looking back, I’m glad my sister was here,” Dinkel said. The two have been roommates for the past three years.

At first, Dinkel said she tried electrical engineering. The plan as a freshman was to combine her interest in music with electrical engineering. “Software development or something,” she said.

She conducted undergraduate research in a medical microbiology and immunology lab, but after her freshman year, she still was unsure what she wanted to do.

“I wanted more tangible results to the research I was doing,” Dinkel said.

Remembering that she had been intrigued by nuclear engineering as a high school senior, Dinkel contacted Chemical Engineering Department Assistant Professor Matthew Bernards about joining his research team that was examining the possibility of thorium-fueled portable nuclear power generation systems.

“I wanted to do something tangible, and solving the world’s energy crisis seemed like a good idea,” Dinkel said.

She began working in Bernards’ lab on research that compares simulations done by a graduate student and developing the data. It’s tedious work, Dinkel said, because she must account for variables not factored in by the software. She presented some of this research at the 2015 Spring Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Forum.

This summer, she will complete an internship with Fermi National Laboratory, and also will travel to the U.S. Particle Accelerator School in Rutgers, N.J.

Dinkel is a double major, also pursing a degree in music, with an emphasis in performance. She said while music often “has its own mountains to climb,” there are times when areas from her two majors converge. She described the moments in a music theory class that focus on mathematical concepts, such as the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequences.

One of her initial classes for electrical engineering used a simplified theremin to teach students how to use the software MATLAB. A classical musician, she has played the clarinet for 10 years, and also has taken up the bassoon. She played the alto saxophone in high school and is currently learning to play piano

After she graduates from Mizzou, Dinkel said she is interested in continuing her engineering education, most likely in nuclear or materials science, but hasn’t firmly decided on anything.

“It could be research. It could be something else,” she said. “I have an interest in going to law school, which could lead to policy development.”

And there’s always the music.