By Caroline Cole
Princess Merenini, a first-year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, was one of the 2019 Pei Wang Fellowship award recipients. The Pei Wang Fellowship honors the late Pei Wang (Ph.D. 1952, chemistry) by gifting this award to honorable graduate students at UW–Madison.
Merenini is an international student from Nigeria. She moved to the United States in 2016 to pursue her undergraduate education at Savannah State University (SSU). Growing up in Nigeria, Merenini was taught that there were only four “prestigious” career paths: medicine, law, engineering and pharmacy.
When Merenini started college, she intended to apply to medical school, but taking her first organic chemistry class as an undergraduate student ignited her passion for chemistry. This course opened Merenini’s eyes to the significant contributions that chemists make to improving people’s quality of life.
During her undergraduate study at SSU, Merenini worked with Professor Hua Zhao to investigate the key factors that enable the use of enzymes to synthesize biodegradable polymers (polylactides). She also worked with Professor Pascal Binda on synthesizing a biodegradable polymer that can return to its original shape after deformation (shape memory properties).
To further her education, Merenini’s undergraduate mentor at SSU suggested that she tour UW–Madison as a participant in the Chemistry Opportunities Program (CHOPs).
“That was my first time visiting the state of Wisconsin,” Merenini said. “I had researched the faculty in the chemistry department, including my current advisor Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi. I liked the research projects that Professor Choi was working on. When I met Professor Choi in person to hear her describe her research projects, I was drawn to the way that she approached science and I knew immediately that I wanted to work with her.”
Merenini is currently working with Professor Choi to improve the desalination process by coupling desalination with energy storage and the production of valuable chemicals. The ultimate goal of this project is to improve the efficiency and decrease the environmental impacts of desalination.
“What drew me to it [the research] was that increasing access to fresh water is one of the most pressing global issues, and the direct impact of my research is clear,” Merenini said. “The project that I am working on has the potential to impact the daily lives of people who live in places that lack freshwater.”
Freshwater scarcity is a problem across the globe and Merenini hopes that her research can help remedy the problem.
“Sometimes people tend to think that freshwater scarcity is something that happens only in the Middle East or Northern Africa, but it is also happening here in the United States,” she explained. “There are areas such as California and Arizona that suffer from freshwater scarcity.”
Merenini was awarded the Pei Wang Fellowship before coming to the UW–Madison campus but has continued to make an impact in the chemistry world as a Badger.
“I feel at home in Madison. Programs, such as Global Friends offered by International Student Services, have helped me connect and build a relationship with an amazing family in Madison. As a graduate student, I feel like I am discovering a lot of options and a lot of things that I can do after I get my Ph.D.,” Merenini said when asked about her experience as an international student at UW–Madison and her future career goals.
After graduation, Merenini would like to continue working on projects that have direct impacts on people and the way that they live.
To see more research done by the Choi Group, click here.