Failure in the Science Lab: An Indelible Part of the Process

Professor Jeffery Coffer doesn’t allow frustration to get in the way of solving a riddle.

(This article by Caroline Collier originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of TCU Magazine.)

Jeffery Coffer remembers how his doctoral adviser broke the news: “All the easy research problems have been solved. Only the hard ones are left.”

Coffer, professor of inorganic and materials chemistry, accepted the challenge.

Photo of Professor Jeffrey Coffer

Professor Jeffery Coffer said research is about taking smart risks and pushing through. (Photo By Mark Graham)

After setting up a research lab at TCU in 1990, Coffer jumped into the rabbit hole otherwise known as porous silicon. About the same time, scientists found that when the second-most common element in the Earth’s crust is imbued with holes, it emits light.

The professor split his research time between the low-risk projects — experiments in the light-emitting variety that should yield results — and less attainable dreams of the better-living-through-silicon variety.

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