April 20, 2018
Congratulations to Alayna Johnson, who has been named a Goldwater Scholar for the 2018-19 academic year!
Alayna is a sophomore majoring in chemistry. As a freshman, she joined the lab of Dr. David Flaherty, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, where her research with team members Daniel Bregante, Ami Patel, and Zeynep Ayla centers on the synthesis of epoxides, which are used to manufacture pharmaceuticals and plastics.
Noting the negative environmental impact of current methods of epoxide synthesis, Johnson elaborated on her team’s goals: “We’re hoping to engineer a catalyst that would allow industries to make epoxides in a new and greener manner. The project is a great combination of materials chemistry, catalysis, and environmental chemistry.”
“Alayna quickly developed skills in kinetic analysis and spectroscopy and has used these tools to show how we can tailor independently the electronic structure, porous structure, and hydrogen bonding interactions of inorganic materials to minimize the environmental impact of these oxidation reactions,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty called Alayna “a talented researcher, a brilliant student, and a truly enjoyable person to work with.”
“In my career, I have rarely seen this strong set of skills in such a young student. Alayna demonstrates her unstoppable drive and motivation in the way she approaches her classwork and research and excels in both,” he said.
Johnson’s experiences in the Flaherty lab also taught her more about herself and her research interests: “I’ve learned that while my interests certainly lie in pure science, an understanding of basic engineering and computational principles is invaluable.”
“The aspect I appreciate most about research is the intellectual freedom that comes with deciding which experiments to run, how to analyze the results, and what to do when they do not match the expected hypothesis. Within research, we get to experience the rare but incredibly rewarding feeling that comes from seeing the results of a well-designed experiment and learning something new about the world,” she said.
Johnson is one of three University of Illinois students to receive the prestigious honor. Read more from the Department of Chemistry.