hUMNs of Chemistry #4

Collin Clay headshot

Collin Clay

4th Year Ph.D. Candidate

Tell us about your journey to the University of Minnesota.

Long story short, I was bullied into visiting the U by one of my undergraduate professors. Following my time as an undergraduate student, I struggled with depression and knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Years of undergraduate research were met with no progress to show, and I took that to mean I was not cut out to be a researcher. As a result, after I graduated, I began working on a political campaign in Wisconsin. I hated it. Then I worked at my alma mater, The University of Kansas, in recruiting to pay the bills. I was as confused about my life as when I finished undergrad. During my time working at KU, I reconnected with a former professor and mentor, and UMN alum, Prof. Misha Barybin. Over time I remembered why I originally loved science, so I wanted to go do research in grad school. Misha told me I had to apply here. I did, and almost immediately fell in love with the city. The bike paths, the people, the food, (but not the winter). The department was incredibly inviting which was not always the case for my other graduate school visits. Now I am here.

We would love to hear more about your research interests! What do you hope to accomplish with this work? What is the real-world impact for the average person?

Plasma. I am interested in plasma. Specifically, how can we use plasma to drive directed chemical reactions. Plasma is a complicated and chaotic "thing" with a lot of energy and reactivity. It has also been used to clean water, sanitize food, heal wounds, and make computer processors. But very little work has been directed towards using it to control chemical reactions for synthesis. I hope to find ways of doing that. From a "real-world" point of view, this would allow for material and chemical synthesis with minimal starting reagents that could be powered by the air around us and green electricity.

What advice do you have for incoming chemistry students?

You do not need to know everything to be curious.

What do you do outside of the classroom/lab/office for fun?

I bike. A lot. The bike trials in and around the Twin Cities are absolutely incredible if you just want to get lost exploring for a few hours. There are also longer trails available if you want to do something silly, like bike to Duluth from here. But you can also just bike along the river and experience the majesty of the great Mississippi!

What non-chemistry interest or activity of yours might surprise department members?

I have recently been getting into sewing my own shirts. If you see me in my Banana/Mushroom shirt, know that is an original piece.

Where is your favorite spot in the Twin Cities?

Brother Justus Distillery

Portrait of Melanie Lex

Melanie Lex

Communications Coordinator

Please give a brief description of your role within the UMN Chemistry department.

I do all things communications, including website updates, graphic design, news writing, photography, and newsletter curation. I love the opportunities I have to work with many different members of the department on things like award announcements, student group posters, and picture day! I love my job and the people I work with.

Tell us about your journey to the University of Minnesota.

I moved to Minneapolis in spring of 2020, and joined the UMN staff in fall of 2022. My one year work anniversary is coming up in October! Before this job, I worked in a marketing role in the luxury furniture industry, but I was thrilled to transition into a role in the education space. I lived in Chicago, Illinois for a few years to attend Columbia College Chicago. I earned my degree in photojournalism and environmental science. I was mainly working in food service management as I made my way through college, and also held a few internships and photography and art administration. 

What do you hope to contribute to the chemistry community at the University?

I hope to create opportunities and positive experiences for members of the Department of Chemistry to have their stories heard. I love using creativity, color, curiosity, and joy to communicate ideas through the media I create.

What’s your favorite piece of chemistry/science pop culture media? Why do you love it?

The Magic School Bus! Ms. Frizzle is my icon for both fashion and science communication.

What do you do outside of the classroom/lab/office for fun?

I like to read, crochet, play fantasy video games, ride bike, and hang out with my cat. I collect weird earrings and take any opportunity to go to a thrift store. I also DM a Dungeons and Dragons campaign and love going to shows for my partner's band, Valeska Suratt.

Where is your favorite spot in the Twin Cities?

Technically it's in Columbia Heights – by one block – but Jasmine Thai has been a recent fave for me.

Emily Pelton

Emily Pelton

Assistant Professor

Tell us about your journey to the University of Minnesota.

I came to the U the summer before starting graduate school here, way back in 2008. As a graduate student, I worked with Kris McNeill and David Blank on the photochemistry of a zero-valent iron species. After graduating, I started teaching here in the department!

What do you do outside of the classroom/lab/office for fun?

I try to find fun everywhere, but I easily find it while hiking, riding my bike, or going to concerts. We're working our way through the Hiking Club passport at state parks, which has been an awesome way to explore the hidden gems of Minnesota.

What was your very first job?

I was a paraprofessional for an elementary summer school program. I worked with students who primarily spoke Spanish at home and helped translate during the school day. I also got to ride the school bus everyday!

Where is your favorite spot in the Twin Cities?

Target Field. It combines my two loves: the Minnesota Twins and Target.

Tell us about who makes up your household (including pets).

I live with my husband and our two amazing humans.

What non-chemistry interest or activity might surprise department members?

I'm a big fan of 80s rock and hair metal. I've seen Motley Crue in concert several times (including all three times they came through the cities on their Farewell Tour in 2014-2015...and again on their Stadium Tour in 2022), and if Journey is on stage, I'm in the audience.