Kennesaw State senior earns spot in exclusive chemistry research program

KENNESAW, Ga. | May 27, 2022

Kennesaw State University chemistry major Kaia Ellis is one of nine undergraduate students chosen from a pool of hundreds of applicants for a prestigious 10-week summer research program in chemistry at Northeastern University in Boston.

Photo of Kaia Ellis in lab
Kaia Ellis

The research opportunity is part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). During her REU program, Ellis will study and discuss catalysis chemistry across the spectrum, from small molecule catalysts to enzymes. Catalysis is an aspect of organic chemistry important to medicinal chemistry, which she described as a possible career path.

“I saw that Northeastern had medicinal chemistry research and I’ve been interested in that for the past year,” said Ellis, a senior from Atlanta. “Not a lot of schools have a dedicated medicinal chemistry research lab, so when I found the REU program at Northeastern University, I decided to apply. I accepted the offer to join the program over the summer to see if this is what I really want to pursue once I graduate.”

Seeking out opportunities for enrichment has become second nature for Ellis, who joined the laboratory of Kennesaw State assistant professor of organic chemistry Carl Saint-Louis in fall 2021.

Saint-Louis research focuses on the discovery and characterization of new fluorescent organic materials that are widely used in the materials and imaging technology fields due to their potential applications in molecular sensors, laser optical recordings and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) materials. Ellis thrived in his lab, and she credited Saint-Louis for encouraging her, both in enhancing her knowledge of organic chemistry and in applying for the REU program at Northeastern.

“At first, even by joining Dr. Saint-Louis’s lab, I was anxious because I had never worked in a lab before,” Ellis said. “He kept reminding me that science is a process and learning about science is a process. It was the same way with applying for the research opportunity, but I’m really glad he kept encouraging me to apply.”

Saint-Louis said Ellis is a shining example of how students grow in the experience of working in a laboratory. 

“Kaia joined my lab excited about organic chemistry,” he said. “She found out we worked on projects she’s interested in, and she dove right into the work. Now, she’ll gain even more lab and research experience over the summer.”


This summer, Ellis can expect 10 weeks of immersion in the study of catalysis, which studies the effects of using a catalyst to create a chemical reaction. She said her group will have weekly seminars and classes. Most importantly, Ellis said experiences like these are within reach for any Kennesaw State undergraduate interested in research.

 “Research improves the learning process and helps connect the class work with the practical application,” she said. “It can really help people figure out what they want to do in science.”

—   Dave Shelles
Photo by David Caselli

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit