On-campus chemistry

After waiting almost two years to join a chemistry lab, Calais Cronin is one of the few students allowed on campus this fall to do research.

“CHEM101 changed my whole trajectory for college,” says Calais Cronin, an undergraduate researcher in the Goldberg Group, a lab working to develop new systems to efficiently produce chemicals and fuels from feedstocks such as natural gas and carbon dioxide. “Being in that class, I felt for the first time in a really long time that I had a direction and ambition and something to really work towards.”

Calais Cronin wears a face mask in a chemistry lab.
Calais Cronin is one of the few students allowed access to a chemistry lab on campus. (Image: Omnia)

Now a senior, Cronin took the general chemistry class with Karen Goldberg, Vagelos Professor in Energy Research, in her sophomore year. At the time, Cronin was a psychology major who’d already worked in a cognition and development lab. Though considering a career in medicine, she says she felt aimless.

All of that changed on the first day of chemistry class. Listening to Goldberg, also Director of the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology, describe her research, Cronin recalls, “All of a sudden I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Cronin is currently one of the few students allowed on campus to do research. With Eric Cueny, a postdoctoral researcher in the Goldberg Group, she’s studying the chemical upcycling of polymers, a new approach to transforming plastic waste into desirable products. An exciting moment came early in her research, Cronin explains, when she helped run a new reaction. It was only the third time it had been done.

With support from Goldberg and the Department of Chemistry, Cronin had to petition the College for a waiver that would allow her to enter academic buildings this fall. Now on her early morning walks to the lab, Cronin reflects on how strange it is to be on campus. “I definitely forgot what it was like to go into an actual academic building,” she laughs.

This story is by Duyen Nguyen. Read more at Omnia.