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Student Spotlight: Agnes Thorarinsdottir

By Sophie Tidd

Agnes Thorarinsdottir is a fourth-year chemistry graduate student in the Harris Lab, who came to Northwestern after finding academic opportunities too limited in her home country of Iceland. With six universities, each specific to an area of study, scientific research is slow and academic funding opportunities are rare, which results in limited instrumentation and few students. As an undergraduate student in Iceland, Agnes was fortunate to get an opportunity to do summer research abroad at Caltech, where she worked under Professor Theo Agapie. Her experience there inspired Agnes to pursue her doctorate in inorganic chemistry in this country. She is the recipient of the Leifur Eiriksson Foundation Scholarship, which is awarded to Icelandic citizens or permanent US residents to conduct research or study at universities in the United States and Iceland, respectively.

Some of you may wonder about the origins of Agnes’ last name.  Icelandic names differ from most of today’s Western family name systems by being patronymic or, occasionally, matronymic: they indicate the father (or mother) of the child and not the historic family lineage.  Therefore, Agnes’ last name, Thorarinsdottir, means “daughter of Thorarinn.”

When she was an undergraduate student at the University of Iceland, Agnes carried out science demonstrations for local school children and organized chemical shows that were open to the general public. She also ran workshops and designed problem sets and practice exams for young college students to prepare them for the International Chemistry Olympiad. At Northwestern, Agnes continues to mentor students in the STEM program, is the president of PLU, and is the vice president of Research Safety Student Initiate (RSSI).  She likes the social aspect of PLU in that it builds a sense of community, as well as the service aspect of providing outreach opportunities, travel grants, and teaching awards to students. Her goal is to have the organization provide more professional development opportunities and workshops to prepare students for a wide range of career paths in chemistry.

After earning her PhD, Agnes’ career aspirations include conducting postdoctoral research, followed by  an academic career in the United States. She would also like to continue to provide learning opportunities for STEM students in Iceland, so that nothing can stop them from realizing their dreams.

When not doing research in the Harris Lab, Agnes likes to exercise and watch sports, in particular, soccer and track and field. She loves travelling to new places that have historical buildings and monuments, as well as places that allow her to spend more time in nature. Her favorite place to visit is the Grand Canyon, due to its spectacular scenery.   Agnes has has some travel advice for those interested in visiting Iceland.  If you are looking for reasonably warm weather to do all sorts of outdoor activities, the best time to visit Iceland is from June to August--not only can you enjoy the balmy climate, but you'll also experience long days, with up to 23 hours of sunlight.  However, if you visit on New Year's Eve (her favorite day of the year!), you’ll experience joyous celebrations with bonfires, fireworks and possibly, the elusive Northern Lights.
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