From the salon to the lab, chemistry student shines at Kennesaw State

KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 27, 2024

Lexie Thrasher
While nursing sore feet stemming from her long shifts working as a hairdresser, Lexie Thrasher got a lesson in chemistry.

She was captivated by a presentation on the chemistry behind the colors used in hair dye, which she found more interesting than her day job. From the hard floors of the salon, Thrasher would find her way to Kennesaw State University, where that lesson led her to seek a chemistry degree and conduct prize-winning research in assistant professor Mohammad Halim’s laboratory.

“Now I’m studying the kind of chemistry that really intrigues me,” Thrasher said.

Recently, Thrasher won first prize for undergraduate student poster presentations at the Symposium of Student Scholars for her project titled “Developing Non-toxic and Biodegradable Peptide Based Sunscreen,” which investigated the production and potency of more environmentally sound sunscreens. It tracks with her origins in the cosmetology business, which started with a vocational program at Sprayberry High School in Marietta.

After receiving her scientific awakening, Thrasher enrolled at Chattahoochee Technical College and earned her associate degree in chemistry before transferring to Kennesaw State, thanks to the recommendations of friends.

“By the time I was a freshman at Chattahoochee Tech, my friends were graduating, and they liked what KSU offered, so I felt confident in enrolling here,” she said. “I felt like I could really thrive.”

She has blossomed in no small part from her own initiative. Thrasher took an environmental chemistry class from Halim and discovered a little more clarity in her mission. The class covered environmental effects of common chemicals, including cosmetics and sunscreens, and Halim told his class that any research to produce more ecologically friendly sunscreens would break new ground. After earning an A in the class, Thrasher joined Halim’s laboratory.

“I badgered Dr. Halim on almost a weekly basis during the class,” she said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m interested in cosmetic chemistry. Can I please join your research?’ After I successfully passed this class, he allowed me to join the research. He's also letting me begin another project of creating a peptide-based hair coloring.”

The sunscreen project sprang from that series of classes, and Thrasher combined her existing expertise in cosmetic chemistry with the science she learned in the lab and the classroom to create the amino acids involved in ecologically friendly sunscreens.

“I like to use a baseball analogy — the sun rays are the ball, and the nanoparticles are a bat trying to hit the ball away,” she said. “The peptide-based sunscreen will act like a glove and absorb the UV rays. Peptides are the building blocks of proteins. Every living creature is made up of these proteins, and we're hoping this will cause less environmental impact than the sunscreens currently available.”

Thrasher will have the chance to expand on this research over the summer and beyond, as she has applied for an internship with L’Oreal over the summer. She said she eventually wants to pursue a master’s in cosmetology chemistry with a continued focus on ecologically sound sunscreens.

“Dr. Halim welcomes people from all different majors and all walks of life,” Thrasher said. “For me, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I’m happy where I am because I discovered that I want to do research, now and in the future. I love the process of finding things out, even when things don’t go right. I love it all.”

– By Dave Shelles

Photos by Darnell Wilburn

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 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