By GALEN FADER
Special to the One Feather
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Many college students use their time off school to relax or de-stress, but one aspiring chemist spent her summer working with cutting-edge technology instead.
Robin Reed, a graduate of Cherokee High School and now a rising senior studying chemistry at Lincoln Memorial University, is one of only 10 outstanding chemistry students from across the country who spent this summer doing research as a part of the highly selective Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a highly competitive 10-week research opportunity in which the participants are paired with a UT faculty mentor and have the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience in a chemistry laboratory.
Throughout the summer, Reed conducted full-time research focused on chemical reactions and lab work and also worked to develop the professional writing and oral communication skills she needs in order to share her research with members of the chemistry community and the general public.
Under the guidance of faculty mentor Dr. Bhavya Sharma and her team, Reed learned what it was like to work in an advanced chemistry laboratory, an approach that allowed her to gain skills and confidence that will support her future scientific career.
In Dr. Sharma’s lab, Reed used nanoparticles and advanced laser imaging techniques to track a molecule called glutathione, which is a naturally produced antioxidant, a class of chemicals that are very important in protecting the body against cell damage.
By studying glutathione, Reed hopes to detect changes in its structure that would signal the presence of carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). She is especially interested in detecting chromium-6, a potent carcinogen and common byproduct of industrial processes.
A first descendant of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Reed is protective of her community and her heritage. While she’s happy to talk with a curious stranger, she is also sensitive to stereotyping and dismissal of Cherokee culture. Even so, she always tries her best to be patient. “You can’t blame people for not knowing when these things aren’t taught,” she says.
Reed stays busy most of the time, but likes to relax and enjoy her hobbies when she can. A self-described avid crafter, she likes to make all kinds of things but especially enjoys making traditional beaded jewelry.
She is no stranger to a chemistry lab. Her experience with research in chemistry began back at LMU, where she worked to detect trace amounts of chromium-6 in beverages like tea. For Reed, the process of doing research is both a personal achievement and a meaningful way in which she can give back to her community. “I’ve finally got the chance to explore my capabilities,” she says.
Moving forward, Reed wants to attend the UT chemistry program as a graduate student and continue her current projects. She is also excited by the idea of studying the brain and how chemical signals and concentrations influence our behavior, and plans to pursue this interest as her career progresses.
Fader is a science writer with the University of Tennessee – Knoxville.