In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences is shining the spotlight on distinguished members of the Class of 2022 from a wide array of disciplines.
Lumen Scholar Hayley Clos ’22 turned her curiosity about the effects of climate change on humanity into a years-long research project studying the uptake of toxic metals in agricultural products.
She completed that research with Associate Professor of Chemistry Dan Wright as her mentor, but worked closely with a number of faculty and staff in her studies and as a teaching and lab assistant.
“I have been a laboratory assistant for Paul Weller in the chemistry department since I was a first-year student. I have also been a general chemistry tutor for the department since my sophomore year, was a laboratory teaching assistant for organic chemistry taught by Dr. Jen Dabrowski my junior year, and was head organic chemistry laboratory teaching assistant for Paul Weller my senior year,” Clos said.
She is a member of Phi Eta Sigma honor society and Phi Lambda Upsilon chemistry honor society.
What made you choose chemistry as a major?
I decided to study chemistry after I took AP chemistry my junior year of high school. I simply fell in love with the field, and I knew Elon’s Chemistry Department would be the perfect place for me to grow as an aspiring scientific researcher.
What was involved in your undergraduate research?
I was very lucky to have been awarded the Lumen Scholars Prize in the spring of my sophomore year. I have been working on my research, “Assessing the Effects of Climate Change on the Release of Trace Metals into Agricultural Products,” for the last three years. In this project, I collected produce items along the East Coast and analyzed them using spectroscopic methods for trace toxic metals, serving as the baseline in a longitudinal study to determine how climate change affects this metal uptake into our produce. I chose this environmental chemistry research because I have a very strong passion for the environmental sciences and assessing how environmental issues are impacting human society. I was able to present this research at the 2021 Elon Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, the 2021 Elon Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, the 2022 National American Chemical Society Conference and the 2022 Elon Spring Undergraduate Research Forum.
How did working closely with professors strengthen your education and prepare you for a career in chemistry?
During my time at Elon I was very lucky to have worked closely with a few different professors in the chemistry department. My research mentor is Dr. Daniel Wright, who I have also taken a couple of classes and labs with throughout my four years. Dr. Wright and I grew very close as we worked together on my research project. Dr. Wright is a theoretical chemist, not an environmental chemist, which made my research experience unique because we were delving into the project and learning about the environmental chemistry field together. We were able to teach each other various things along the way as we progressed through our work. This experience allowed me to grow as a researcher and learn how to solve problems that no one knew the answers to.
I was also able to work closely with Dr. Justin Clar, the environmental chemist in the department, who taught me many different environmental analytical techniques that enhanced my research. I will actually continue to use many of these analytical techniques in my Ph.D. research. I would like to perform environmental chemistry research professionally, and these mentors gave me the building blocks that I needed to make my career goals possible.
Another faculty member who I worked very closely with was chemistry department Laboratory Manager Paul Weller. Mr. Weller hired me to work in the chemistry lab in September of my first year, teaching me about laboratory standard operating procedures, hazardous waste disposal, and various other tasks common in a chemistry lab. During my sophomore year I worked for him by preparing the general chemistry laboratories, where I got a lot of experience performing tasks such as making solutions and handling chemicals. Finally, I worked as a laboratory teaching assistant with him. Mr. Weller has helped shape me into the chemist that I am today, as he instilled in me so much important chemical and laboratory knowledge that I will carry with me throughout my graduate and professional careers.
What are your plans following graduation?
I will enroll in a doctoral program for environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut, where I will be leading a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to analyze soil health as determined by the presence of certain contaminants such as trace metals and organic pollutants.
What was the most valuable part of your undergraduate experience?
One of my most valuable undergraduate experiences has been my research. Elon made hands-on research so accessible to me, and conducting research in the chemistry department exposed me to so many different types of instrumentation and analytical methods that I would not have gotten at any other institution. The professors are so passionate about their work and want their students to thrive in the professional world, which is the attitude that helped shape me into the scientist, researcher, and scholar that I am as I conclude my undergraduate career. The chemistry department has had a tremendous impact on my chemical education, perseverance, ability to communicate scientific findings, and ability to accept my failures and work through stuck-points when they arise. My environmental chemistry course with Dr. Clar, my laboratory experience, my environmental research, and my challenging physical chemistry courses with Dr. Wright and Dr. Rizzuto are just a few of the experiences that have influenced my career outlook and primed me for success in the future.
What advice would you give future Elon students?
There is always help all around you, you just have to be proactive about finding it. Everyone at Elon wants you to succeed academically, professionally, and personally. The Elon community is filled with countless resources, offices, and faculty that want you to be the best version of yourself. The faculty care about you as a student, but also as a person. Be proactive about making strong connections very early on. They will serve you well as you continue to work through stuck-points, failures, and even accomplishments.