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‘What I’m supposed to do’

As a Tar Heel, Alexis Glaudin found her passion for physical chemistry and research. She'll now be heading to the University of Washington to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Alexis Glaudin sitting on a bench.
(Photo courtesy Alexis Glaudin)

Graduating senior Alexis Glaudin has been nothing short of a chemistry star since she first arrived at Carolina.

As a first-year student, she dove straight into research, joining a lab in the Department of Pharmacology with Dr. Bryan Roth, which led to her co-authoring a paper in the journal “Nature Chemical Biology.”

“That was a great foundation for me to see what it’s like to do research,” said Glaudin, who grew up in York, Pennsylvania.

That was just the start of her research endeavors at Carolina. Early on, Glaudin also worked with Jeffrey Aubé’s lab, which focuses on organic synthesis and medicinal chemistry. The experience informed her honors thesis on opioid addiction.

“My project was about making potential opioid drugs that could cause pain relief without inducing addiction,” she said.

Though her undergraduate research experiences gave her plenty of hands-on experience, it was a required physical chemistry class in her junior year that changed her entire career path.

“I thought I wanted to do organic research that centered around medicine and developing drugs for the rest of my life, but then I took a quantum chemistry class taught by John Papanikolas, and I loved it so much that I decided I want to do physical chemistry,” she said.

Shortly after she finished the class, she joined Papanikolas’ lab, where she works on transition metals to develop more efficient electronics and honed her physical chemistry skills.

“I really like physical chemistry because I can use math to predict the behavior of a particular molecule and then literally see my predictions come true in experiments, which is just pretty amazing to me,” Glaudin said. “I also believe that the emergence of quantum technology is going to revolutionize the way we process and transmit information. It will be up to the chemists to fabricate the materials necessary to carry out these feats. I want to be a part of that revolution, and I can do so by becoming a physical chemist.”

In her time at Carolina, Glaudin won the Jason D. Altom Memorial Award for Undergraduate Research from the UNC Chemistry Department, the American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award for Physical Chemistry and the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

As crucial as the lab has been to Glaudin’s time at Carolina, there were other opportunities outside of it that shaped her college experience. Glaudin has connections to the Lumbee Tribe and attending Carolina provided the opportunity to explore her family heritage more deeply.

“I was really excited about being close to a lot of other Lumbees since the Lumbee Tribe is mostly in southern North Carolina,” she said. “I’m from Pennsylvania, and there’s not a lot of Lumbees in Pennsylvania. I thought it was a neat way to connect with other Lumbees and Natives from North Carolina.”

Glaudin became involved with the Carolina Indian Circle on campus and even danced at the student organization’s powwow her sophomore year. She was also a member of the Atheist, Agnostic and Secular Students of Carolina, an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance. She served as president during her junior year up through the fall of her senior year.

“We would discuss philosophy, different types of religion, and what it means to identify as non-religious,” she said.

Glaudin is also a Chancellor’s Science Scholar. The program offers merit-based scholarships, professional development, research opportunities, leadership training, mentorship and other programming to help future achievement. She attributes the program to where she met most of her friends and gained more support to pursue her interests.

“It’s a really great program because it helps people from underrepresented demographics have not only opportunities but also the support to continue to work in science. I think it’s helped me understand how important diversity is for the sciences and how we really need to keep that going and make improvements,” she said.

After graduation, Glaudin plans on attending the University of Washington to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.

“Research feels like it’s what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “I’m proud of myself because I feel like UNC is hard oftentimes, and you have to study a lot and invest in the things you’re doing. Also, with COVID-19, it’s been even harder to focus, but I’m getting through it, and I’m getting a degree, and it’ll be awesome. Then I’m going to Seattle, and hopefully, it’ll be awesome there too.”