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ASU grad crafts her own path in environmental chemistry

Madison Sobol School of Molecular Sciences

Madison Sobol is graduating from ASU's School of Molecular Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in environmental chemistry.

May 03, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Understanding chemistry has shaped Madison Sobol’s worldview. 

Passionate about environmental causes and making a societal impact, learning how chemistry occurred within her everyday life offered Sobol a new lens for which she could view solutions, even though it was challenging at first. 

“I didn't pick up chemistry as quickly as others, but knew I wanted to keep pushing, to get better and learn more,” said Sobol, who is graduating with honors from Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in environmental chemistry. 

“It’s so interesting to see things from a new point of view when you understand the science that occurs within our everyday life. It’s what really got me hooked from the beginning in high school, and I stuck with it because I love it.” 

Sobol’s genuine passion and motivation to address environmental issues led her to becoming a top performer in the school, which was noticed by faculty. 

“Madi is a versatile and hardworking scientist highlighted by a range of accomplishments including: winning the 2024 Optics School poster competition, publishing as a coauthor on three peer-reviewed physical chemistry research articles describing the fundamental properties of copper oxide nanomaterials as economic and environmentally friendly alternatives for catalytic materials, and now starting a PhD program in oceanography,” said Scott Sayers, assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, whom Sobol worked with for two years conducting undergraduate research. “It has been a pleasure working with her, and I look forward to following her career.”

As a first-generation college student, Sobol is proud of her accomplishments and after graduation will pursue her graduate degree at the University of Connecticut studying chemical oceanography and working on carbon dioxide removal research. 

Sobol’s advice to those in school is to lean into college communities and to not be afraid to try new things.

“Try working in a research group, try a club, try a class,” said Sobol. “You could have your heart set on doing a specific type of research or going into grad school, but explore other options, classes or other areas of study; you never know unless you try something new.” 

We asked Sobol more questions about her time in the School of Molecular Sciences. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I wanted to study chemistry and really cared about the environment. I want to have a large impact and make a difference. I really enjoyed chemistry concepts. I think it’s a super cool way to view the world.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: It was close to my hometown of Mesa, Arizona, and all my friends and family live here now. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: She probably doesn't even know who I am, but Anne Jones made such a big difference in my life. I received an email from her my first semester that really stuck with me. I failed my first general chemistry exam online and reached out to Anne Jones to see what I needed to be doing better. She was very straightforward and gave me a list of things that she noticed herself that I could improve on, and she did it in a very nice and respectful way. She taught me that it's OK to reach out to people and to work with my peers. That's what college is meant to be, a supportive community environment. 

Scott Sayers also has been there to help me out a lot. I've worked in his research group for two years. He's very straightforward and does expect a lot, but that's pushed me to work to my best ability. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: If I’m going to be honest, the D-wing of Physical Sciences. Everybody's there, all my friends are there. I love the faculty there. All of the School of Molecular Sciences is there. I feel so at home when I'm there every day. I love it.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm starting an internship with the Central Arizona Project doing environmental health and safety for three months taking water samples and learning about water quality, which I enjoy. Then after, I'll be packing up and moving across the country to Connecticut and starting graduate school at the University of Connecticut in August at the Avery Point campus studying chemical oceanography. My PhD will be in oceanography, and my group specifically does biogeochemical modeling. I'll be specifically working on a funded project that's going to be exploring a potential carbon dioxide removal method.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would definitely put my money towards a carbon dioxide removal method, which is what I'm currently working on — I think putting that money towards solving the problem of ocean acidification and trying to remove CO2 from the atmosphere while making it safe for all of the creatures that live down there in the ocean. We want to use the ocean as a carbon sink, but that does create problems down below in those creatures that live in those marine environments. It’s what I'm passionate about.

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