Nancy Bush and Caitlin Dinh grew up a continent apart but with a common interest: chemistry. Though they took divergent roads to arrive at USC and only met for the first time this fall, they quickly developed a highly effective working relationship in the lab of Megan Fieser, Gabilan Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Together, they’ve been researching a method for making PVC recyclable—and their efforts have been so successful that they won first place in this year’s Wrigley Sustainability Prize, awarded by the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Bush, who hails from Connecticut, inherited a love of science from her father and zeroed in on chemistry in high school. She also cared deeply about the environment and completed a dual undergraduate major in sustainability studies and chemistry. By the time she graduated from college, however, she didn’t see a future for herself in the chemical industry. Its pollution record was too dire; she began considering a policy-focused career instead. Then a gap year spent working for the New York State Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) changed her mind.

“The EPB was suing all these companies for polluting, but the lawyers themselves weren’t the ones with the environmental knowledge,” Bush says. “Chemists were the ones who were identifying the pollutants and helping the EPB understand the real meat of the cases, and it made me realize that I could be a chemist and do good. So I decided to go back to school.”

Dinh, a California native, grew up knowing she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. Specifically, she wanted to be an anesthesiologist, and chemistry attracted her because she knew it could help her better understand the drugs she’d be working with in operating rooms. She came to USC as a transfer student, looking for opportunities that would make her more competitive for medical school.

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Author: USC Dornsife, University of Southern California
USC Dornsife, University of Southern California