Grad Student Spotlight: Mo Payne

Mo Payne

Mo was raised here in Iowa City. He is an alumnus of our two largest state schools, having achieved an undergraduate degree in psychology at Iowa State University and a second undergraduate degree in chemistry here at the University of Iowa. Early in his studies, Mo wanted to be a veterinarian, but after taking organic chemistry with Dr. Quinn and working with him as an undergraduate researcher, he discovered a love for chemistry.

Mo’s thesis project is to develop and identify materials that have chemical selectivity for water. The current paradigm for water treatment involves removing contaminants, and each type of contaminant requires a different treatment process, which is time-consuming, complicated, and often expensive. Identifying materials that select for water rather than selecting for the contaminants could revolutionize water treatment, making it simpler, faster, and more cost-effective. Mo has presented his research at the last three ACS spring meetings, at the Jacobson Conference, and at a symposium here on campus.

As Mo approaches his thesis defense, he is also working on an application for a Science and Technology Policy Fellowship through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS policy fellows serve as congressional advisors. If selected, Mo could work with Senators, Representatives and full committees. He is also interested in the work at Sandia National Laboratories, which focuses on threat reduction for chemical and biological hazards and improving safety practices.

Mo’s advice to future graduate students: never say no to the opportunities presented to you. Early in 2017, Mo was approached by March for Science organizers to speak at the Iowa City rally in April. He was initially hesitant, as addressing a large group in a public setting was a task outside of his comfort zone. However, he ultimately agreed, and was the only graduate student to speak at the event. A group of students from his former elementary school attended the rally, and he acknowledged them during his presentation. One of the teachers accompanying the student group later reached out to Mo directly, and he learned during the course of their communications that her daughter had served in an AAAS science policy fellowship and now works for the organization full time. This was a significant professional connection that Mo could only have made by stepping up to the opportunity he was given, not knowing where it would take him. He encourages new and future graduate students to seize new opportunities, even if the ultimate benefits aren’t immediately clear.


Our graduate students make a difference! Additional Graduate Student Spotlight pieces are linked here.