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Genius Does Love Company

A long-time admirer of Ray Charles, IUP president Tony Atwater takes delight in the late musician’s final album. But it’s more than just the music. Atwater said the album’s title, Genius Loves Company, brings to his mind Tom Baker.

“His legacy at IUP represents the excellence the university can achieve,” Atwater said of Baker. “He is a symbol of IUP at its best.”

When Baker graduated from IUP in May, he had received fellowships from the National Science Foundation, Phi Kappa Phi, and Mortar Board to begin a doctoral program in chemical physics at Harvard University. He also was only the second person from IUP ever designated a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar. At Honors Day in April, he was recognized with the Robert Reynolds ’48 Graduate Scholarship.

Tom Baker

Baker came from Bloomsburg, Pa., to IUP, where he was a member of the Robert E. Cook Honors College. He credits a Central Columbia High School teacher, Brett Criswell ’88, for refining his interest in chemistry. “I wanted to be a scientist from a very young age,” Baker said.

The summer after his IUP freshman year, Baker started working on research projects with IUP Chemistry professor Ronald See. “I could tell within a week,” See said, “that not only was he very bright, but he had the academic and intellectual confidence, even just past his freshman year, to do outstanding research.”

Baker spent the summer after his sophomore year in the Research for Undergraduates program at Columbia University. More than two thousand students from throughout the U.S. apply annually for the program. Fifteen are accepted.

Using a powerful microscope with atomic resolution, Baker conducted research that helped explain nanotechnology applications. With funding from Columbia, he presented his research at a National American Chemical Society conference in Anaheim, Calif.

“After he came back from Columbia, he told me he had an idea for his own research project,” See said. “Almost never does that happen with undergraduates. He designed his own project, and it was a good one.”

According to John Eck, dean of IUP’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, “IUP has a long and distinguished record in providing research opportunities and professional mentoring for our students. Tom Baker took full advantage of these opportunities to develop his personal interest in chemistry.”

In the summer of 2004, Baker entered an internship program at the Center for Materials Science and Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, he worked in the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, which creates lightweight molecular materials to equip future foot soldiers with uniforms and gear that can heal them, shield them, and protect them against chemical and biological warfare. Both the Columbia and MIT experiences were funded by the National Science Foundation.

According to Eck, “The most difficult thing for Tom to do while at IUP was to choose where he wanted to continue his education: Stanford, Harvard, or Cal Tech. These kinds of difficulties are easy to deal with.”

Baker is spending this summer in Mainz, Germany, conducting research on theoretical chemistry at the Max Planck Institute. Before leaving IUP, he was among those recognized at Commencement ceremonies for achieving a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.

Not all the accolades should be his, Baker said. “The support of IUP, the Chemistry Department, and especially Dr. See, my advisor and mentor,” he said, “was extremely instrumental in my growth, both as a student and as a scientist.”