Chemistry student conducts research on removing steroids from wastewater

Alissa Weston, a senior from Louisville who studies Chemistry and Criminology, is conducting research analyzing samples of steroids that have been dissolved in wastewater. Her research will assist in determining the best methods for detecting and extracting the steroids. 

“I am interested in this topic because the techniques and methods can be applied to several different areas,” Weston said. “For example, the research could be used to clean drinking water. It could also be used to extract and test for steroids in biological samples. The latter of which relates to the forensic chemistry work that I want to do after graduation.”

Weston has already decided what direction to go in after graduation. 

“Once I graduate, I plan on working in a crime scene unit doing forensic chemistry lab work. I hope to eventually end up working in either the FBI or a state crime lab,” Weston said.

In addition to her research, Weston is also a dedicated teaching assistant for the chemistry department where she teaches general laboratory techniques and theories of chemistry to freshmen. 

“I started working as a teaching assistant the first semester of my sophomore year. One of my chemistry professors asked me if I would be interested in being a support TA for the fall semester, and I said ‘yes’. I’ve been a TA for three years now, and I’ve done it for so long because I enjoy it,” Weston said. “I love seeing the students get excited when an experiment does something cool or when the figurative lightbulb goes off and they understand a concept that they were previously struggling with. Being a TA is a lot of work, but it’s also very fun and rewarding when the students succeed and do well.”

Weston said that while she’s not planning on becoming a chemistry teacher after graduation, having a background as a teaching assistant is a great start in the field of forensic chemistry. A forensic chemist in a crime lab has to testify as an expert in court for different cases, which requires explaining techniques and concepts of the experiments performed on the evidence to a jury of mostly non-scientists. She said that being a teaching assistant has helped prepare her for that as she already has similar experience explaining chemical theory to her students. 

Weston’s involvement as a teaching assistant has led to her contribution in creating a video series with the WKU Division of Extended Learning and Outreach. 

Working with WKU DELO to create a video series for high school dual credit instructors, Associate Professor Carnetta Skipworth in the WKU Department of Chemistry recommended Weston for the job. In the videos, Weston performs experiments that are taught in high school dual credit chemistry courses. She discusses safety tips and concepts. The videos will help future teaching assistants as well as high school dual credit instructors who will perform the same experiments. 

Adding to the list of college adventures, traveling abroad is another opportunity that Weston participated in during her time at WKU. Last summer, Weston spent a month in Seoul, South Korea where she took three classes, participated in the Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea’s largest international summer festival, and enjoyed eating plenty of Korean cuisine, specifically barbeque. 

Posted with permission from WKU News