Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A: A chocolatier. As a child, the thought of making chocolate for a living seemed almost magical. It’s as much a science as an art — it’s truly chemistry and materials science. In a way, I haven’t deviated too much from my childhood dream, although my experiments certainly aren’t edible.
Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
A: I don’t think there was any one lightbulb moment, but after years of playing with recipes and substituting different ingredients to optimize the final product, I realized that bench chemistry is really similar to baking.
Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
A: My research on materials for water remediation is grounded in polymer chemistry, but I often feel like an analytical chemist or environmental engineer — in other words, out of my comfort zone. I once spent weeks collecting data to understand how much of a contaminant my material could remove, but, when I analyzed the data, the maximum capacity I calculated was negative — an impossible result. After days spent troubleshooting, I sent a group text to friends from different labs in the chemistry department that amounted to: “Help, I’m stuck, does anyone know about this problem?” Within minutes, a physical chemist — and dear friend — responded with a tool powerful enough to analyze my raw data.
I couldn’t solve that problem on my own, but I knew a colleague with the appropriate tools. The more I work toward my PhD, the more I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, because tackling challenges usually requires more than one point of view and asking for help usually saves a lot of time and struggle.
Q: Describe your research in 5 words.
A: Sticky materials capture nonstick pollutants.
Q: What are your passions outside of research?
A: I’ve been a runner for over 12 years. I come back to it every day for a chance to clear my head and get fresh air. Running reminds me of the bigger picture. After over a decade, I’ve had injuries, trials, periods of success and failure. Sometimes, progress seems slow, and it’s tough to get out the door. Yet, if I look back on how those miles have added up over the years, I can see clearly how much stronger and faster I am now. I try to think about my career as a chemist in the same way: If you stick with it, you’ll end up far ahead of where you started.