Student Spotlight: Ryan Fan Reflects on his “Summer in Siena”

From L to R, Alexis Kosiak, Ryan Fan, and Alex Nazzari visting the lab of Gianluca Giorgi, a collaborator of Emory chemist Vince Conticello, at the University of Siena.
From L to R, Alexis Kosiak, Ryan Fan, and Alex Nazzari visting the lab of Gianluca Giorgi, a collaborator of Emory chemist Vince Conticello, at the University of Siena.

“Sprawling in Siena”

By: Ryan Fan (Emory College)

Without a data plan or service to access a map, and with street signs posted on obscure buildings rather than poles, roaming around Rome turned a “15 minute walk” to our hotel into an hour of circling the same street over and over again. “Well, this is going to be difficult,” I thought as I entered my hotel room, passing out from jet lag. I sincerely hoped I wouldn’t continue to feel as lost and disoriented as I did on that first day.

Thankfully, most of the study abroad experience in Italy went better than my first hour in Rome. “Getting lost” turned into culturally-motivated wandering—from the Coliseum to the Vatican Museum to the 551 steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. My personal favorite experience was climbing the Basilica to see the view of Rome’s skyline. But it wasn’t solely a race to the top – climbing the dome was special for what you see on the way. At about 200 steps, you get a birds-eye view into the Basilica. Pilgrims travel thousands of miles to see the work of artists like Michelangelo and the crypts of Paul and Peter. The whole climb, from start to finish, was a privilege.

Studying chemistry in Italy gave me a behind-the-scenes view of some of what goes into restoring and protecting the kind of art that I admired in the Basilica . One thing we studied in particular was the use of lasers to restore art and architecture. I have always thought of art as purely a humanities discipline. However, we learned that while artists are the ones to make beauty, scientists are needed to help preserve it. Every time a piece of art needs to be restored, it requires an entire team of art and science experts. Part of their goal is to make the smallest amount of alterations possible while restoring a piece. As a chemistry and creative writing double major, this changed my perception that my two fields of study are mutually exclusive. Rather, they can co-exist together to form the best possible product. This also happens in developing makeup, making art supplies, and authenticating pieces of art.

We arrived in Siena, a city in Tuscany on May 27, 2016. One of my favorite things about Siena was the massive hills. As a cross country runner, I found no shortage of places to run because of the hills, which increase the difficulty of my training. The central square, El Piazza Del Campo, is the heart of the city with tourists and native residents alike picnicking at every hour of the day. El Piazza houses a biannual historical race known as the Palio di Siena. This is a horse race with 10 jockeys, each representing a contrada, or district, of the city. A victory brings tremendous pride and celebration to a contrada. After six weeks of living in Siena, we ended our program by attending this raucous event alongside nearly 50,000 other spectators. Of course, as an Emory student-athlete, I support the Eagle contrada.

The only complaint I have about the Summer in Siena program is that it goes by too fast. It feels like just a second ago that I was feeling lost and nervous in Rome. I initially went on this trip just to study chemistry, but I’ve learned so much more about art, culture, and collaboration between the arts and sciences on the way. When I get home, I plan to try to convince my mom that we should take a trip to Italy as a family–that’s the only way I can truly show them how great this experience was.

Interested in applying to for the “Summer in Siena” program? Details are available on the Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA) website.

When in Rome…Learn Chemistry!

The 2016 cohort of "Summer in Siena" students pictured in front of the Coliseum with teacher Mike McCormick. Photo by Tracy McGill.
The 2016 cohort of “Summer in Siena” students pictured in front of the Coliseum with teacher Mike McCormick. Photo by Tracy McGill.

Chemistry’s popular “Summer in Siena” study abroad kicked off last week. Above, the students are pictured on their first full day in Italy, posing in front of the Coliseum. Twelve students and four faculty will be a part of this year’s program.

The department collaborates with the Chemistry Department at the University of Siena in offering this unique experience that places chemistry in context with Italian culture and history.  The program includes trips to Florence and Rome with visits to a vineyard and glass factory. Students will also attend the world famous Palio horse race in Siena. Previous trips have also included visits to the Novartis Research and Development facility in Siena.

Interested in applying for the Summer in Siena program? Check out the program details on the Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA) Website!

Emory Undergraduates Study Chemistry in Italy

Studies in Siena
Students pose in front of a Siena landmark


A group of Emory undergraduates are currently taking part in the Summer in Siena study abroad program. In addition to completing chemistry coursework, the students are learning about topics such as the chemistry of winemaking and the chemistry behind historical preservation. The trip is led by Emory faculty Mike McCormick and Simon Blakey.

Dr. Blakey says:

Touring the Novartis research facility in Siena
Touring the Novartis research facility in Siena

“Today our students joined a group of chemistry students from UniSi and visited the Novartis Vaccines R&D site in Siena. We had lectures overviewing the historical importance and current trends in vaccination science, as well as a lecture on glyco-conjucate chemistry and the next generation of vaccines emerging. Novartis treated us to lunch in their cafeteria (a converted 16th century Villa), and we then toured a small part of the Flu Vaccine Production Facility (strictly outside the GMP areas of course). Thanks to Novartis for a fascinating day and for being such great hosts.”

Stay tuned for more adventures in Italy! Current Emory undergrads can apply for this unique program during the 2014-2015 school year for summer 2015.

“Passport to Science” in Chemical and Engineering News Features Emory’s Study Abroad

Emory’s chemistry study abroad programs are featured in a Chemical and Engineering News article, “Passport to Science.” From the article:

Students who find it impossible to be away for a year, or even a semester, can find opportunities over the summer to study abroad. Since 2004, chemistry faculty at Emory have been taking 15 to 20 chemistry students to Siena, Italy, for five weeks over the summer. As part of their course work, students visit art museums to learn about art restoration and the chemistry of paints and pigments; they visit vineyards to study the fermentation process; they tour gold, alabaster, and glass factories to watch chemical transformations unfold; and they test for minerals in water samples at a nearby Tuscan town.

“It’s important to tie in what they study with what they’re seeing around them,” says Ram, who has led several of the trips. “The classroom then becomes a place to discuss their experiences.”

Jolyn Taylor, who went on the Siena trip in 2004, says the experience made chemistry come alive for her. “Everything we studied, we saw,” she says. She notes that she also got to see how passionate her professors were about chemistry. “That kind of enthusiasm from professors is contagious,” she says. “You can’t often get that in a class of 200.”

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