Student Spotlight: Mary Milligan

Mary Milligan was first exposed to research when she was named a Maine Top Scholar and was introduced to advisors in the chemistry department at UMaine. After talking with several professors she found a research project that piqued her interest. Milligan says, “since then, I have been able to apply a lot of the skills I’ve learned in the lab to classes I’m taking, conversations and even when applying to grad school.”


Today Milligan is working with her faculty mentor, Dr. Matt Brichacek, focusing on xylan, “a major component of plant biomass and secondary cell walls.” Xylan falls under a class of glycans, which are found in most plants and make them “an abundant source of fuel for renewable energy.” However, the chemical bonds of xylan can be difficult to degrade, impeding the process. Milligan is using the reagent, 4-MU Iodonium Triflate, to assess how to degrade those molecular bonds, hoping to apply it to other classes of glycans. “In the future, these reactions, in conjunction with the 4-MU reagent, can be transferred to sustainability studies concerning biofuels.”


Milligan says she “had the benefit of working with both a mentor and a graduate student,” saying their knowledge helped her understand not only portions of her research but also other aspects of chemistry she had been unable to previously apply. “I am forever thankful for Matt and Robin’s efforts in helping me become a better chemist and making my research experience so informative.”


For those who are just considering dipping their toes into research, Milligan recommends exploring lots of areas and talking to a variety of faculty mentors. Exposure to different areas and research projects gets students thinking about all the possibilities available to them. “Enjoy your time doing research and try your best to schedule time” for it. She says while college may be tough, the experience is only as rewarding as students make it.