Ever since my first day of AP chemistry in high school, I knew I wanted to be a chemist. I was fascinated by the ability to seemingly make something out of nothing. Even today, when I think about chemistry I consider it magic. When I entered the University of South Carolina, set as a chemistry major, I seemed to be the only student on my dorm floor that knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
I chose to take Professor Angel’s quantitative analysis class during the spring of my freshman year. This class was my first introduction to analytical chemistry, and happened to also be the class that Professor Susan Richardson was sitting in on during her first semester as a faculty member at USC. Professor Angel began one lecture by stating that Professor Richardson was new and needed undergraduate help in her lab; I contacted her and scheduled a meeting. This meeting ended up changing my entire undergraduate track.
I started working in Professor Richardson’s Environmental Analytical chemistry lab at USC during that spring semester. Throughout the next two years, I was in and out of the lab helping different graduate and undergraduate students with their projects. I enjoyed my time working in the lab as an assistant, but as I wanted to go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D., I knew I would need more research experience under my belt. I met with Professor Richardson and decided to apply for a Magellan Grant. With her help, I was able to secure this funding, as well as a Magellan Mini-grant. The main objective of our project was to test how efficiently water filters for home-use (e.g. Brita and PUR) remove important organic chemicals from Columbia, SC tap water.
I had a bit of luck during my senior year in the lab. This luck came when Professor Richardson told me another undergraduate in our lab, Ashley Perkins, would be working with me on the project. The project was a very large endeavor, so there is no way I could have finished it, nor could I have gotten the results we did without her help. We worked extremely well together, and were able to finish the experiments before graduation. We presented our results at Discover USC 2017, and ended up winning a first-place prize in the morning poster session.
In addition to research at USC, I also participated in a summer research internship at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center after my sophomore year. My main role was collaborating with team members from the DREAM2 center for space environments to advance our understanding of the process of solar wind implantation into the top layer of lunar soil. As a result of the research I performed during my internship, I was awarded the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Scholarship, given by the National Space Club and Foundation at the Goddard Memorial Dinner in Washington, D.C.
While participating in my internship, I had the wonderful experience of listening to many of the scientists speak about their research. One specific instance piqued my interest: a talk on the organic materials found on the Martian surface. Analytical chemistry techniques being used millions of miles away to find the same organic building blocks that are involved with the creation of life on Earth fascinated me.
This presentation elicited a desire in me to become a research scientist, and truly began my aspiration to study analytical chemistry.
My interest in space continues today, as I aspire to work as an astrochemist after I finish my Ph.D.
Overall, the class I enjoyed the most while at USC was the quantum mechanics portion of physical chemistry with Professor Mark Berg. I have always been fond of math, so being able to use advanced math concepts to further understand the fundamentals of how the world works interested me. I enjoyed this class so much that I will be attending the University of Pennsylvania starting in the Fall of 2017 to pursue a Ph.D. in physical chemistry.
Outside of the classroom at USC, I was a pole-vaulter on the USC track and field team, the undergraduate representative on the chemistry department web committee, and a general chemistry lab teaching assistant. These activities allowed me to become more connected with the Carolina community, and helped me really enjoy my time at USC.
Many incredible people at USC helped me get to this point in my career. Professor John Lavigne was my advisor and organic chemistry teacher. Without his guidance and support throughout my undergraduate time at USC, I would not have achieved as highly as I have. Another faculty member who helped me immensely is Professor Richardson. Without her guidance in the lab and recommendation letters, I would not be the student I am today. Other people to whom I am grateful include professors Scott Goode and Mike Angel, the staff members in the department office, especially Renee McGinnis, Amy Cuthbertson, the graduate student who taught me everything I know in the lab, and Bill Farrell from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.