Student Star: Sean Tacey

Chemistry prodigy excels in research and music

Name: Sean Tacey
Major: Chemical Engineering
Graduation: Spring 2014

“I hope to eventually teach at the university level to assist college students in achieving their own form of success.”

Sean Tacey has dreamed of the boundless knowledge that awaits him in the world of science since he first set eyes on a Bunsen burner in his high school chemistry class. Some may describe the Florida State University senior as a prodigy. He has maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average as a chemical engineering major — with minors in chemistry and mathematics — and belongs to the university’s Honors Program.

Tacey most enjoys problem-solving classes that force him to think outside the box. At FSU, he favored organic chemistry, taught by Mark L. Kearley, an honors lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and thermodynamics taught by John C. Telotte, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.

“There is no question that Sean is an impressive student,” Kearley said. “I have taught college chemistry for 20 years and I would say that Sean is among the top 10 students that I have ever taught. Sean is a uniquely talented young man and I fully expect him to excel as a researcher.”

Tacey has received recognition for his record of academic achievement, earning the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Award scholarship to pursue research over the summer 2013 semester. With the aid of the scholarship, Tacey is conducting research into the continuous enzymatic process for biomass conversion to energy.

“My role involves breaking cellulose into glucose to ferment it and produce biofuels,” Tacey said. “I’m studying the miniscule reactions of enzymatic hydrolysis on cellulose to learn what promotes reactions and what demotes reactions.”

Tacey works alongside Subramanian Ramakrishnan, the head of the Complex Fluids and Nanomaterials Research Group at the Florida A&M University-FSU College of Engineering. Ramakrishnan is an award-winning researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.

“Tacey is intelligent, hardworking and, most importantly, shows the curiosity and interest to learn new things,” Ramakrishnan said. “He was clearly the best student in the two classes I have taught and has the potential to become a good scientist and engineer. I look forward to working with him on the project.”

Tacey hopes continue this research until graduation and plans to present his findings for the Honors in the Major Program.

In addition to being an exemplary scholar and researcher, Tacey is an accomplished musician. During his first two years at Florida State, he devoted hundreds of hours to rehearsing and performing tuba with the world-renowned Marching Chiefs, the marching band at FSU. His junior year, Tacey transitioned to Seminole Sound, the Athletics pep band.

“I’m most proud of my time in the Marching Chiefs,” Tacey said. “It was crazy to be in the stadium surrounded by 80,000 people. Being a member of the Chiefs was a huge part of my life for two years and I worked so hard. It meant a lot to me.”

Tacey also is involved in honors societies on campus, including Phi Eta Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Tacey is an active member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and FSU’s chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honors society for which he serves as corresponding secretary.

“I’m really happy to be a member of Tau Beta Pi and AIChE because, in both, we get to do a lot of outreach and to connect with professionals regarding internships,” Tacey said.

Tacey has participated in outreach programs at the Challenger Learning Center in Tallahassee to assist in providing younger children with activities pertaining to science, math and engineering.

“Seeing kids get excited about science and learning was really rewarding for me,” Tacey said. “We built bridges using only straws once.”

As he enters his senior year at Florida State, Tacey will continue playing tuba in the pep band and, if time allows, he would like to perform in an ensemble.

After graduating summa cum laude in spring 2014, Tacey hopes to work at FSU’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory before attending graduate school in the fall, working toward a doctoral degree.

“I hope to eventually teach at the university level to assist college students in achieving their own form of success,” Tacey said. “I also want to conduct my own innovative research to improve the overall quality of life worldwide.”

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