Silvestri, '15, Enjoying Chemistry in the Lab, on the Field

September 16, 2013

Joe Silvestri worked with chemistry professor Cliff Harris until July 3. He has returned to metro Detroit to shadow physicians.
Joe Silvestri worked with chemistry professor Cliff Harris during the early part of the summer before returning to metro Detroit to shadow physicians and volunteer.

Joe Silvestri didn’t take any time to bask in the glow of his role in helping the Albion College men’s lacrosse program achieve its finest season at the varsity level last spring.

A Detroit Catholic Central High School product who achieved distinction on the all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association first team as a long stick midfielder, Silvestri went to work in chemistry professor Cliff Harris’ lab as soon as he completed spring semester final examinations. Hoping for a career as a physician, Silvestri spent 20 hours a week working in Harris’ lab – running experiments four mornings per week and all day on Wednesday – until early July, when he returned to metro Detroit to resume volunteering and shadowing physicians at the hospital where he gained experience last summer.

“These experiences are extremely valuable because I don’t get to do a lot during the school year – with lacrosse I’m crazy busy,” Silvestri said. “I have to take advantage of the opportunities I can get. I enjoy spending time doing research, volunteering, and shadowing, and the fact the activity is building my résumé for medical school applications is a bonus.

“Lacrosse is demanding nearly year-round,” he added. “We have team workouts supervised by the coaches for a month in the fall, and then we work out independently or collaboratively through non-coaching-staff events to improve our skills.”

Since 2003, students in Harris’ lab have been focused on finding out why potassium permanganate, a chemical compound used to tear molecules apart, became like a molecular glue when introduced to organoboron compounds. Albion students ran new experiments last fall that led to the discovery that a compound produced as a byproduct of the original reaction was causing the unexpected chemistry. Silvestri is among a group of students currently working to find compounds that can be added to the byproduct to make a long string of molecules.

‘Like Working on a Puzzle’

The work Silvestri has done in the lab is an example of how Albion students turn critical thought into action, as he can learn not only by asking questions but through mistakes made when running experiments.

“I’ve run five experiments so far, testing compounds to see if they react the way we think they will, and if they don’t I have to try and figure out why,” Silvestri said.

"It’s exciting to work in the lab because it’s like working on a puzzle,” he added. “You have to know what you are doing on every step. I’m learning what everything does, why we do it, and how we do it. I’m getting a lot out of this experience because everything I learned this past year is beginning to meld together.”

MCAT Awaits

Silvestri will face a challenge in the spring of 2014 as he adds preparation for the Medical College Admission Test and service on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committeee's executive board to a demanding course load that includes three science courses and a highly anticipated lacrosse season after the Britons finished runner-up in the MIAA last spring.

“Spring ’14 will be demanding, but at the same time, rewarding,” Silvestri said. “I have confidence in my ability to manage my time well enough and not get caught up in any negative thinking. As long as I put in all the work, then I’ll be proud of whatever I do.

“Lacrosse is important to me because I’m learning valuable skills – teamwork, discipline, commitment to a common goal – that will carry over once I’m done playing here at Albion,” he added. “The best thing is the camaraderie of the team. We are a tight-knit group, the chemistry is awesome, and it equates to some good play on the field. I wouldn’t work this hard if it wasn’t worth it.”