Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie once told her daughter Eve, “A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.” Understood this way, science is not an exercise in reductionism; rather, it is an opening of the eyes, an exploration prompted by what Curie calls “a spirit of adventure, which seems indestructible and is akin to curiosity.” If anyone possesses this spirit of adventure, this sense of curiosity and wonder at the natural world through the study of science, it is Templeton senior Zachery Custer.
Hailing from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Zach traces his interest in science to his junior year at Conestoga Valley High School, where he completed a science fair project in which he converted municipal paper waste into ethanol. “I really fell in love with the project, and it intrigued me more than anything else ever has,” he remembers. While other students went to practices or rehearsals during the afternoon, Zach stayed in the lab for hours after the school day was over, carrying out experiments. Ultimately, the hard work paid off. During his junior year, Zach won the title of senior champion in a regional science fair, where he competed against 350 other young scientists, before being named a finalist in the International Science and Engineering Fair.
During his time in Templeton, Zach has enjoyed examining the intersection of faith and science. To hear him tell it, coupling a major in chemistry with a Great Books core has allowed him to explore the ways that theology informs the scientific pursuit and vice versa. “Science and theology are man’s way of interpreting two truths that God has revealed to us: nature and Scripture. Ultimately, the truths that are present within the two disciplines are going to be congruent, because they are both forms of truth that God has revealed to us,” Zach says. Naming Theories of the Origins of Life as the most impactful class of his college career, he credits Templeton professor Dr. David Wilcox with sparking his engagement with the integration of faith and science.
Not only has he learned to understand the contours of the relationship between faith and science, Zach continues to excel as a chemist in his own right. In 2014, he was named a Quaker Chemical Research Scholar, and this past summer, he worked in research and development for a polymer chemistry company in Exton, Pennsylvania. Recently, he attended the Intercollegiate Students Chemist Convention at Muhlenberg College, where he was awarded second place in the organic chemistry division for an outstanding verbal presentation of his current research, a senior project that involves using palladium nanoparticles for carbon coupling catalysis.
After graduation, Zach plans to spend a year conducting further chemistry research for a local company before pursuing doctoral studies in organic chemistry. Ultimately, he hopes to work in chemistry research and development in the field of alternative energy or environmental sustainability. For Zach, chemistry is not just about research in a lab, but about understanding and loving the world. “Learning in the Honors College has given me a sense of what I hope to do with chemistry, how I ought to help others, and how I learn to honor God by engaging actively with his creation,” Zach says. Dedicated, committed, and driven, it is certain that Zach possesses the scientific vision of which Curie speaks: that indestructible curiosity at the natural world, employed in the service of his Creator.