George Riegel: ‘Renaissance Man of Chemistry’
Wilton native and 2012 Wilton High School graduate George “Ted” Riegel graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a 3.9 GPA from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., where he was called the “Renaissance Man of Chemistry.” Commencement was May 21.
For his honors thesis at Lafayette, Riegel focused on the synthesis and application of a water soluble NHC palladium complex for catalysis of the Heck reaction in aqueous solvents. In the spring of 2016, he presented this research to the American Chemical Society Expo in San Diego.
As a high school student, Riegel “enjoyed the challenge of figuring out the chemistry content,” according to Wilton High School science teacher Jim Lucey.
“It is really special to work with students like Ted who process difficult material and make connections between concepts,” said Lucey. “Students who are focused on a deeper reason to take chemistry are also students who are comfortable in allowing their curiosity to come forward.”
Lucey said he particularly remembers that Riegel was “intrinsically motivated” and enjoyed “seeing the details over the bigger picture.”
“As we know in education, and especially in science, paying attention to the details prepares one to fully grasp the bigger picture,” said Lucey. “This is what turns science students into science majors.”
At Lafayette College, Riegel was president of QUEST, one of the largest clubs on campus; public relations director of the Lafayette Freethinkers Association, and a member of the national chemistry honor society Phi Lambda Upsilon.
Riegel also participated in the Lafayette Leadership Institute and was a teaching assistant from 2014 to 2016 and a Safe Zone peer mentor from 2012 to 2016. He was also active in Lafayette's EXCEL Scholars Program, when he spent two summers conducting undergraduate chemistry research.
In the summer of 2014, Riegel’s team investigated the effects of phenyl substituents on shielding of a trifluoromethyl group in its shielding region with chemistry professor William Miles, Ph.D. As part of the research, Riegel performed Suzuki coupling reactions, column chromatography, proton NMR analysis, fluorine NMR, and re-crystallization — an important step in drug metabolism in the pharmaceutical industry.
In the summer of 2015, Riegel’s team investigated secondary organic aerosol formation and growth, the uptake of small biogenic molecules, and the formation of aerosol precursors with assistant chemistry professor Melissa Galloway, Ph.D.
The team studied glyoxal — an organic compound that can be useful as a tracer of and contributor to secondary organic aerosol growth — in atmospheric chambers, which allowed them to simulate and control atmospheric conditions and gain a detailed understanding of the chemistry occurring in our atmosphere.
Riegel’s accomplishments don’t stop there. He is also the recipient of the J. Hunt Wilson 1905 Prize in Analytical Chemistry, American Chemical Society Division of Organic Chemistry Undergraduate Award in Organic Chemistry, and the American Institute of Chemists Award.
Lucey said Riegel’s accomplishments are “impressive and reflect a lot of work, dedication and sacrifice on his part.”
“Ted is very bright. His intelligence is the creative kind,” said Riegel’s former Wilton High School math teacher and mentor Stephen Bell.
“He often sees things clearly, but he tries to create for himself different perspectives. I suspect that he is capable of very original accomplishments in the sciences.”
Riegel, who also tutors students in chemistry and math through his company, Tutoring by Ted; aspires to become a college chemistry professor. He will pursue his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where he will also work as a teaching assistant.