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Georgia Eastham uses a rotary evaporator to remove a solvent by evaporating the solvent with heat and a pulling vacuum in the organic chemistry lab. (Photo by Lauren Dossey)

Branching into Chemistry

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Media Contact: Sophia Fahleson | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 |

When Georgia Eastham began her classes in the Ferguson College of Agriculture, she discovered a science connection beyond her expectations.

A triple major in plant and soil sciences, biochemistry and chemistry, the senior credits her introductory classes with helping her find her place.

Eastham, originally from Davis, California, got involved in agriculture before her freshman year of high school after suffering too many concussions to continue playing sports, she said.

“I needed a new set of activities,” Eastham said. “I joined a local 4-H club. The year after, I joined FFA.”

Because of her involvement in FFA, Eastham began to consider a career in agriculture.

“In FFA, the focus was on getting kids into fields of agriculture, so that’s really what I was considering,” Eastham said.

When the time came to choose a college major, Eastham was never interested in pre-med or animal science, she said.

“I liked science, chemistry and biology a lot in high school,” Eastham said. “I knew I wanted to study science. I just didn’t know what type of science.”

With California’s vast crop production industry, Eastham felt led to a plant and soil sciences major, she said.

“I was really intrigued with the idea of being a plant breeder,” Eastham said. “I thought that would be a really cool way to have an impact and be very involved in science and agriculture.”

After Eastham’s freshman year in the plant and soil sciences program, she decided to shift her focus, she said.

“I was really interested in how plants worked and the chemistry of it, and so I would read stuff on my own,” Eastham said. “I realized quickly that what I wanted to do was more in the area of biochemistry and physiology.”

Eastham added a biochemistry major after looking at degree sheets and meeting with her academic advisers: Beatrix Haggard, plant and soil sciences associate professor, and Sheri Orr, OSU College of Arts and Sciences academic advisor.

The summer after her freshman year, Eastham interned for Corteva as a field research intern, and although it was a good experience, Eastham said it still was not what she wanted to do in the future.

“I started to really realize more of what I want to do is still not even biochemistry or physiology of plants,” Eastham said. “I really want to study the chemistry of plants.”

During her sophomore year of college, Eastham decided to add a third major in chemistry.

“I was really interested in organic chemistry and how molecules interact with each other and how the reactions happen,” Eastham said, “and even how the reactions happen in plants.”

Although adding chemistry late in her college career was a challenge, Eastham’s drive and interest in her classes make it worthwhile, she said.

“I really enjoy my chemistry classes, and so that makes it really doable,” Eastham said. “This is what I want to do, and it’s very motivating to feel like you’re learning in a space where you belong and where you want to be. It’s pretty exciting.”

While at OSU, Eastham has worked on a wide range of research since her freshman year.

“I received the Freshman Research scholarship, which was actually a very big deal to me because it guaranteed that I would be able to get involved in research during my freshman year,” Eastham said.

Even though Eastham had no prior experience, being able to do research was a huge part of her decision to go to OSU, she said.

“I knew I wanted to do research,” Eastham said. “I just knew I was going to like it.”

During her freshman year, Eastham began working on a purple wheat project under Brett Carver, plant and soil sciences professor, through the Freshman Research Scholars program.

“That was really cool because I was working on a genetics project, but I got to be in a lab doing more analytical chemistry,” Eastham said.

The purple wheat project has been an ongoing research project focusing on a specific chemical compound that provides more antioxidants than traditional wheat, Carver said.

“There are no academic walls for her,” Carver said. “If she hit a dead end, say in the methodology, she has a way of finding ways around those dead ends, and that’s what has impressed me the most.”

Because of Eastham’s familiarity with biochemistry and other complicated literature, she can confidently work and analyze in a research setting, he added.

“I can just turn her loose, and she’s just not going to accept no for an answer,” Carver said.

While working on research, Eastham has presented her work at multiple conferences, as well.

“She’s even gone to a meeting of millers and bakers in the industry and spoken on behalf of me about this project and generated a lot of interest,” Carver said.

Eastham also spent much of her time working on research in the chemistry department with Jimmie Weaver, associate professor.

Because of Eastham’s unique background and skills, she brings a new perspective to the chemistry department, said Weaver, who serves as Eastham’s research advisor.

“I love having students who come in with their own interests,” Weaver said. “I don’t typically think about the agricultural problems, but when you have students who have that background, and they know those skills, it draws attention to those problems.”

Since she added her chemistry major, Eastham has worked with Weaver to help develop new tools for chemical biology programs, which can be applied to a variety of biological applications, she said.

“Georgia is really an amazing student who understands really conceptually difficult problems that most people can’t wrap their minds around,” Weaver said. “She gets it very quickly, and there’s really very little we can throw at her that she won’t master.”

As challenges arise in agriculture, new ways to solve problems also must be developed, Eastham said.

“That’s why chemistry is so important,” Eastham said. “Chemistry is involved in everything.”

While most of what Eastham is working on is considered basic research, it can be applied to many different areas, including agriculture, she said.

“That’s where basic research and math, physics, and chemistry really fit into things like agriculture,” Eastham said. “We need a mix of people who really know what’s already going on and people who are working on figuring out potential new things.”

Since her freshman year, Eastham also has been a part of the McKnight Scholars Leadership Program for rural out-of-state students.

The McKnight Scholars program provides students with an out-of-state tuition waiver, a short-term study-abroad program, and exclusive access to leadership classes and other student development opportunities.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of people,” Eastham said. “I have made some close friends through the McKnight program.”

During her junior year at OSU, Eastham served as a McKnight Scholars Leadership Program mentor to a group of the program’s freshmen.

“It was so different,” she added. “I really had to push myself, but it was good. I mentored some cool people.”

Eastham’s hard work in and outside of the lab has not gone unnoticed.

“I have faith that in the future she’s going to be a real mover and shaker in the world,” Weaver said. “We see a lot of potential in her.

“The world will be better because she is in it,” he added.

In 2023, Eastham received the Barry M. Goldwater scholarship, a highly sought-after national scholarship awarded to those pursuing research careers in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.

“It’s a very prestigious award,” Weaver said. “They do a good job of identifying students who will have futures in academia.”

After OSU graduation, Eastham plans to pursue a doctorate in chemistry, she said.

“I would like to be a principal investigator, so I would really like to lead my own lab and mentor students,” Eastham said. “What I’m hoping to accomplish is being able to really dive into research questions more than I have as an undergraduate.”

Since switching her focus to chemistry, Eastham has truly found her spot, she said.

“I ended up really finding community in kind of an unexpected place,” Eastham said. “It’s a sense of purpose and identity.

“It felt really good to find these places where I was really excelling and also being challenged,” she added.

“I think I was always going to end up here,” Eastham said. “It was just figuring out what the field meant more and more.” 

Story by: Lauren Dossey | Cowboy Journal

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