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Dr. Andrea Holmes - Assistant Professor of Chemistry

To really know Dr. Andrea Holmes, you need to know that she's a lot like a chiral molecule.  

In chemistry that means molecules with opposing handedness, an object that differs from its mirror image.

In Holmes, it means she appreciates both molecular sensors and beauty pageants.

It means she's a professor, adviser, strict-grader, goofball and shameless American Idol fan.

She won't sit down at her desk each morning without 30 minutes of jump-roping and jumping jacks. When she leaves the organic chemistry lab, she goes home to a parrot, a rabbit, three cockatiels, two parakeets and two Shih Tzus.

She has a Ph.D. from New York University and post-doctoral NIH Fellowship from Columbia University.

But she still catches herself looking at the organic reaction mechanisms on the whiteboard, thinking:

"Did I really write this? There's no way I know all this."

Ten years ago, she struggled with undergraduate chemistry.

She chose to master and teach her weakest subject because it held a challenge.

Easy makes her restless.

Boredom made her trade her job as an x-ray technician in her native country of Germany for x-ray technician at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.

When boredom struck again, she responded with an undergraduate degree, then a move to New York for graduate and doctoral degrees in organic chemistry.

Now a second-year assistant professor of chemistry, she aims to teach in a way that draws students to study and work in science.

At the core, she says, is research "students can be passionate about."

"They won't be motivated unless they see the purpose, the relevance."

She and a student team are creating a sensor for the "date rape" drug flunitrazepam. Holmes was a graduate student when she read a pamphlet detailing the drug's devastating use against young women and decided it would be her research topic someday.

So far, they have created a sensory formula that works in the lab. Now they are applying it to a paper sensor - similar to a Ph strip -- that one could easily carry to screen drinks.

Another project underway examines plants' production of phytoalexins in response to stress, looking for possible implications in improving human antibiotics.

Holmes didn't know what to expect when she set out from New York, the back of her Toyota Rav 4 filled with abused and neglected animals she took in as a foster mother. The trip was a three-day spectacle crossing six states and stretching hotels' pet rules.  

But it was worth it, she said.

"I'm very thankful to be here. This really is the best time of my life."

It's a long way from the Black Forest.

And she had become accustomed to calling her tiny, "sinfully expensive" Manhattan one-bedroom home.

Yet in Crete, she's equally happy jacking up the porch, replacing part of her roof, and remodeling an upstairs bathroom on her two-story home across from campus.

(If that seems surprising, see "chiral molecule" reference above.)