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Xavier Magazine | June 29, 2017

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Suzanne Lunsford

By France Griggs Sloat

Suzanne Lunsford Bachelor of Science in chemistry, 1990; Ph.D. in analytical chemistry, University of Cincinnati, 1995 | Ohio baton twirling champion, U.S. Twirling Association, age 11; Xavier pep band twirler, 1986-1990; Assistant professor of chemistry, Wright State University.

Seeds of Perfection | Lunsford began baton twirling at age 4. At age 7, she joined a drum and bugle corps that won national competitions. She twirled her way through high school near Cincinnati, where she performed in a blue and gold sequined suit.

Hazards of the Twirl | “On a windy day you can break your fingers. I haven’t actually broken them, but I’ve had them so blue it hurt.”

Peppy Performance | As a pep band member, she entertained Xavier basketball crowds with her twirling, flinging her baton to the rafters and catching it blind, or tossing it to the rhythm of the band. She became a favorite of many fans who admired her skills.

Performing Science | Little did her fans know that behind the scenes, Lunsford was conducting another performance—in the chemistry lab. It turns out the blonde-haired, blue-eyed twirler was not a “dumb blonde,” as she puts it, but one of only two chemistry majors who graduated in 1990. “People don’t realize when you take a shower or drink a Coke or brush your teeth, it’s all chemistry.”

Perfecting Science | Not the type to do anything halfway, Lunsford took her interest in chemistry to the highest level by pursuing her doctorate. For her dissertation research, she delved into the detection of neurotransmitters in the brain with an electrode she perfected made of glassy carbon and platinum.

Detective Work | The purpose of the electrode was to predict the onset of brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and to allow for preventive treatment. By the time she completed her doctorate, the electrode was being tested in rats.

Pay Back Time | Now she concentrates on teaching the next generation of scientists. At Wright State University, near Dayton, Ohio, she helped put together the Master of Science program with a grant she wrote. Her focus is helping high school teachers earn their master’s degrees to generate greater interest in science among high school students. “The rate of people becoming scientists has really declined, and how do we get people excited about it if we don’t teach it?”

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