By Matt Hawkins
Some science students enjoy using complex, expensive lab equipment. Others, like Bradley biology alumnus Michael Molter ’16, would rather build the instruments.
Molter, a self-described “biology student working as an engineer in a chemistry lab,” united broad interests in electronics, engineering and medicine in preparation for a medical career. The unique blend of academic experiences opened the door to medical school opportunities.
“We all like to have useful skills and find ways to use our hidden talents,” Molter said. “I never thought I’d do engineering and electronics after high school, but it turns out those skills put me ahead of the pack because few pre-med students have such diverse backgrounds.”
Molter brought a high school interest in electronics to his biology pre-med studies at Bradley. His interest became an asset in Dr. Luke Haverhals’ chemistry lab, where Molter gravitated toward interdisciplinary projects.
He found a niche developing lab equipment. After reading how instruments were designed, he taught himself to build and repair the devices.
Molter capped his Bradley lab experience by making two specialized tools for a fraction of the cost of commercial equipment. One device was a membrane built to test cells. The other, a polarimeter, determined chemical compounds’ exact makeup by measuring the angle a beam of light diffracted when shined through the substance.
These projects confirmed Molter’s hunch that medicine is naturally interdisciplinary. His building projects required him to use his background in chemistry, biology and engineering.
While allowing him to express his natural curiosity, the research also forced him to respond to real scientific challenges. He quickly discovered textbooks described chemistry and biology processes in perfect conditions, not in everyday lab environments. As a result, he read more about engineering and electronics to find ways to accommodate imperfect lab settings.
“I gained a fundamental understanding of what I’m doing as I apply theory,” Molter said. “I have a new appreciation for foundational textbook knowledge even though I know I’ll be challenged to adapt it.”
Molter attributed his most significant academic growth to three years under Haverhals’ tutelage. The pairing, perhaps unusual for a biology major, worked because they shared a belief in an interdisciplinary approach to science.
“Dr. Haverhals saw my talent and empowered me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do,” Molter said. “He enjoys investing in people, and his attitude toward us is contagious. That made the lab the best job I’ll ever have.”
In addition to a unique pre-med lab arrangement, Molter took courses outside the norm for pre-med students. Extra math and chemistry classes showed him how his chosen field interacted with other disciplines.
As a result, he’s poised to be a versatile addition to professional medicine.
“What I learned in other fields will allow me to be more effective professionally,” Molter said. “If I need a device built, I’ll be able to talk to engineers and chemists in their languages, or I’ll be able to build it myself.”