Student Story

STEM Student Receives Research Scholarship from American Chemical Society

The periodic table of elements.
Periodic table of elements, showing lanthanides. Image by Dmarcus100, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Creative Commons.

“I find it fascinating how bodily functions are governed by various chemical principles and I seek to understand them. . . . Simmons has given me the opportunity to explore this avenue of inquiry.”

“I was really overwhelmed to receive this particular scholarship, especially since I was competing against many other STEM students throughout the Northeastern area,” says Biochemistry major Reagan Cleversey ’26, a 2024 recipient of the James Flack Norris / Theodore William Richards Summer Research Scholarship on behalf of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “Receiving this honor made me proud of all of the work and hours in the lab I put in over the years. . . . I know that this opportunity will be such a great experience for me and will help prepare me for graduate school, so I am really happy.”

As Cleversey explains, “This award is about promoting research collaboration between undergraduates and faculty. The financial support I receive from the ACS is a stipend [totaling $3,500] that will enable me to conduct medicinal chemistry research over a ten-week period under the guidance of my faculty mentors, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Physics Arpita Saha and Associate Teaching Professor Shreya Bhattacharyya.” On May 16, the Northeastern section of the ACS recognized Cleversey and other awardees during a virtual ceremony called Education Night

The scholarship is named after two seminal American chemists, James Flack Norris (1871–1940) and Theodore William Richards (1868–1928).I have read a lot of papers by Norris, who researched organic chemistry and was a World War I veteran,” says Cleversey. In 1904, Norris came to Simmons College as its first Professor of Chemistry. “Richards was the first American scientist to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He specialized more in physical chemistry and atomic weights determination. Norris and Richards set a foundation for important experiments within the field, and are still being cited today. They were also known for their mentorship, so they are definitely inspiring for young chemists in training.”

At Simmons, Cleversey’s mentors are elated. (Over the last 22 years, Cleversey is just the third Simmons student to have received this competitive scholarship). “Reagan has always been curious and eager to learn and those qualities are essential for developing STEM research competencies,” says Professor Saha. “I am proud of her for winning the prestigious fellowship!”

Forays into Anti-Cancer Research

This summer, Cleversey will stay at the Simmons residential campus and conduct her research at Simmons and other local laboratories. Her project, entitled “Exploring Interactions Between Ligand-Bound Lanthanide Complexes and Gold Nanoparticles,” experiments with aspects of anti-cancer research.  

“The overall purpose of my project is to bring the anti-cancer initiative agent to the malignant cells without harming the healthy cells. As many people know, chemotherapy is very harmful to cancerous cells, but also to helpful cells. There is always going to be a push toward non-cytotoxic [toxic to cells] drug treatments, so if we can identify something that kills harmful cells selectively, this could be a breakthrough in cancer treatment,” Cleversey explains.

For the first two weeks of the research period, Cleversey will focus on Part A, which entails making a ligand-bound complex using lanthanide metals, specifically cerium nitrate. “What makes lanthanides so special is that they are really adaptable and can be used in many different ways. They don’t dissociate in water, which is important for the body,” explains Cleversey. “Basically, Part A gives us the puzzle pieces that we will later put together and synthesize.”

For the remainder of her fellowship, Cleversey will address Part B, which involves gold nanoparticles. “They act as the delivery agent; I call them the ‘Uber’ of the lanthanide ligand derivative,” she explains. During the phase, Cleversey will test various factors, including interactions, the most beneficial concentrations, and so forth. She will also use specialized electron microscopy tools at Northeastern University, which will enable her to take pictures of the substance.

“Of course, undergraduate research does not have the same impact as an actual dissertation, peer-reviewed article, or new drug,” concedes Cleversey. “But this preliminary research should still be valuable to the scientific community, since we are testing one specific facet of an anti-cancer drug. We hope that other scientists will build upon our research.”

Comprehending, Curing, and Communicating

“I was always interested in the human body and how it works,” says Cleversey, who was originally a Biology major on a pre-med track, but changed to Biochemistry soon after starting her studies at Simmons. “I find it fascinating how bodily functions are governed by various chemical principles and I seek to understand them. . . . Simmons has given me the opportunity to explore this avenue of inquiry.”

Within the anti-cancer domain, Cleversey is attracted to solving big problems and helping to create better treatments. “I think everyone has a family member or a friend who has been affected by cancer, given that it is such a widespread problem. . . . Being a part of that push towards a more effective treatment or cure is profoundly rewarding for me as a scientist and as a person,” she says.

In addition to STEM, Cleversey is passionate about reading and writing. “I chose to be a Literature and Writing minor since I know it will be helpful in the future when I start writing scientific papers. Scientists must know how to communicate their ideas clearly,” she says. Thus far, Cleversey’s favorite writing course has been “Food is Love: An Exploration of Food, Culture, and Identity” [BOS 101], which explores Boston’s culinary culture and was taught by Assistant Teaching Professor of Nutrition Yara Gholmie.

Discovering Internships and Mentorships

Since her first year at Simmons, Cleversey took advantage of the research opportunities available to her. “Almost every semester I took research courses (CHEM 150 or 250), which can be done for credit or not for credit. It’s amazing to be able to work in a lab under the supervision of one of our STEM professors. This is how I developed a wonderful working relationship with Dr. Saha,” she says.

During summer 2023, Cleversey participated in the six-week Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Simmons (SURPASs). She conducted onsite research (much of which was related to Part A of her ACS project) and benefitted from several sessions related to professionalization within the STEM field. According to Professor Saha, “The SURPASs program helped Reagan hone the writing skills and critical thinking skills necessary to cultivate STEM identity.” Cleversey also had the chance to interact with other SURPASs students in the humanities and social sciences. 

Instilling a Sense of Belonging

As a lifelong Bostonian who knew of the city’s cutting-edge hospitals and labs, Cleversey was attracted to Simmons’s location. “Being a women’s-centered institution was important to me too,” she says. “I have had past experiences where I did not feel as heard or as prioritized because of my gender identity. I knew that I would be supported and valued at a place like Simmons.”

Cleversey has enjoyed meeting and collaborating with the faculty, and she advises students to take advantage of the mentorship opportunities that a relatively small school like Simmons offers. “Find out what interests you, then find professors doing similar work. Initiate a conversation with them and get involved,” she says. “Show your dedication and interest. Being proactive really makes a difference.”

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Kathryn Dickason