Melissa is from Murrysville, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh). She attended Penn State University as an undergrad, where she was a Schreyer Honors College scholar. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science with Honors and Distinction in Materials Science and Engineering and minors in International Studies and French and Francophone Studies.
For her undergraduate senior thesis, Melissa had the opportunity to spend seven months conducting research at Carnegie Mellon University, which was a great learning experience. She worked on a project in collaboration with a professor at Penn State that involved investigating the solution behavior of poly(ethylene oxide) in ionic liquids. Melissa also completed a summer internship in the Future Business Group at Bayer MaterialScience, where she worked on several projects and gained experience in an industrial setting. Melissa states that "being involved in research and development in industry was extremely enlightening, as the methods and priorities are often different from those in academia. My experiences there solidified my goals of attending graduate school to earn a PhD and then working in industry."
At Penn State, in addition to multiple scholarships, Melissa received the Coleman Undergraduate Award in Polymer Science. In 2010, she received a University of Massachusetts Graduate School Travel Grant to present her research at the fall ACS National Meeting.
Regarding her reasons for choosing PSE, Melissa comments that, "from my undergrad experiences, I knew that I wanted to continue working with polymers, and most of the other programs that I considered (all materials programs) only had a few professors involved in polymer research. I chose PSE because of the breadth of cutting-edge research, as well as the interdisciplinary nature of the department, with polymer synthesis, engineering, and physics all in one building. In addition, the PSE community and the enthusiasm of the professors and students for their work and the department make it a great place to attend grad school."
Currently, Melissa works with Professor Gregory N Tew researching the synthesis and characterization of novel hydrogels. By using efficient chemistry to make well-defined polymer networks, and then characterizing the networks in terms of their swelling and mechanical properties, she is working to understand the relevant structure-property relationships. Hydrogels are notorious for being brittle, but there are many water-swollen natural materials that have impressive mechanical properties. Melissa is interested in making totally synthetic water-swollen materials with properties as good as or better than those found in nature.