High school researcher combines sustainability with passion for chemistry

RIT joins American Chemical Society to provide summer research opportunity

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A. Sue Weisler

Omega Christian presented details of his research Aug. 10 during RIT’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. Gabrielle Gaustad, left, assistant professor in the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, served as his mentor.

It’s hard to imagine any teenager spending summer cooped up inside a laboratory, particularly by choice. But meet Omega Christian. While his peers enjoyed the outdoors, this Rochester City School District student remained indoors to pursue his passion for chemistry—exploring recycling technologies at RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability.

“Most of my work in the lab deals with lithium ion batteries, finding out what’s involved inside the batteries and trying to help the future of society,” he says.

Soon to be entering his senior year at John Marshall High School, Omega earned the opportunity through a grant from the American Chemical Society. His principal, Susen Hart, nominated Omega for the organization’s Project SEED summer program, which provides fellowships to students from economically challenged environments. The program allows them to participate in research within academic, government and industrial settings.

Gabrielle Gaustad, assistant professor at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, says she selected Omega based on his academic interests. His desire to pursue chemistry made him a good partner in her efforts to study the environmental impact of battery waste. Omega was charged with leaching metals from batteries at the end of their life cycle to better understand their composition. This provided an opportunity to evaluate the potential for recovering these metals through recycling.

“We dumped him underwater right away,” Gaustad says. “For someone who has only had high school chemistry, working with a bunch of Ph.D. students who have had many years of schooling beyond that, he did a really great job. He’s a quick learner.”

“Every day I came here just felt amazing,” Omega adds, “waiting to work on something new and being able to learn something every day.”

Omega enjoyed the opportunity to present his findings as part of the Undergraduate Research Symposium held at RIT on Aug. 10. Now his focus shifts back to school with prospects of attending college on the horizon. Spending the summer at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability reinforced his interest in chemistry, but he says there is also a greater appreciation for how that translates in ensuring society a more sustainable future.

“This is what I love to do. My life is based on chemistry.”