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Alison Hyslop, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Chair of Chemistry

Chemistry Professor Prizes Time with Students—in the Lab and the Community

Ask Alison Hyslop, PhD, why she enjoys teaching at St. John’s University, and she will cite myriad reasons. However, as the associate professor and chair of chemistry recently noted, they all boil down to this—people.  “At St. John’s, I have brilliant colleagues and enthusiastic students,” she said. “The people here are amazing.”

Now in her 13th year at the University, Dr. Hyslop pointed to the close-knit sense of community among faculty and students in her department. “There are only 120 undergraduates in the chemistry program,” she said, “so we’re a small department within a major university. Students get all the advantages of being at St. John’s while benefiting from the personal attention available within our division.”

The warm atmosphere in the program also reflects the amount of time that chemistry students spend in the laboratory. “If you’re an English major, you don’t necessarily have to be in a classroom to do your work,” she said. “In chemistry, you have to be in the lab with your advisor in order to complete your work.” Dr. Hyslop adds that she relishes her time with her students. “When you’re waiting for a reaction to an experiment, there’s a lot of down time, so you really get to know your students on a deeper level. That’s why I love having them join in my research.” 

That research focuses on developing “light-harvesting” complexes that may become efficient sources of alternative energy. “We’re exploring compounds that absorb light,” said Dr. Hyslop. “Then we take that energy and transfer it or an electron to another part of the molecule.” Ultimately, she explained, these chemicals may employ light-energy as effectively as plants do. “Right now,” she noted, “solar panels transfer energy at approximately 15 percent efficiency. Plants have a rate of 99 percent. If we can develop an energy system that does the same thing as plants, it would be a huge accomplishment.”

When she’s not with her students, Dr. Hyslop brings the benefits of chemistry to a new generation of young scientists in elementary schools throughout Queens, NY. “My undergraduates and I go out into the community to host ‘Chemistry Is Fun’ shows for local school children,” she said. “We do experiments with liquid nitrogen where we freeze things—like bananas—and then use them as a hammer to drive nails into boards. My students really enjoy the experience, and the school kids love it, too.”

Through Dr. Hyslop, the chemistry department has also brought budding young scientists to the University. “They come to the campus, walk around St. John’s, and get to see what a real lab is like,” she said. “We actually had a child who had visited us when she was in fifth grade, and then came back years later as a graduate student.” 

Dr. Hyslop is especially proud of St. John’s commitment to educating students who might otherwise be unable to attend college: “There are many students here who are Pell-eligible—that is, they have the highest levels of need. This University does so much to make sure that they thrive.” Sometimes, she said, those students “just need someone to tell them, ‘you can do it.’ That is one of the best parts of my job.”