Were it not for a summer spent working in a chemistry lab when he was a high school student, Javoris Hollingsworth would have never considered a career as a chemist. “I didn’t see myself doing science because I had never seen any scientists that looked like me,” he says.
▸ Hometown: Jeffersonville, Ga.
▸ Year in Project SEED: 2002
▸ Education: B.S., chemistry, Georgia Southern University; M.S. and Ph.D., chemistry, Louisiana State University
▸ Current position: assistant professor, University of St. Thomas
▸ Advice for students: Hollingsworth recommends that any student considering a career in science participate in an internship or a summer experience similar to Project SEED. “They could come to the same type of realization that I came to and turn science into a lifelong career.”
Hollingsworth’s high school science teacher Mack Carswell noticed his aptitude for science and suggested he apply for the ACS Project SEED program, in which high school students who historically lack exposure to scientific careers spend a summer doing hands-on research in a chemistry lab. Hollingsworth confesses that he wasn’t really interested until he learned there was a stipend associated with the program. But after his summer of research was over, he says, “I felt as though I should have paid them for giving me that amazing experience.”
With Project SEED, Hollingsworth worked on porphyrins for photodynamic therapy with Rosalie Richards at Georgia College & State University. “That was the first time I ever witnessed an African American in the sciences,” he says. “That experience opened my eyes to the possibilities that could be available to me.”
The experience of learning how science works—from formulating an idea to developing experiments to seeing a project come to fruition—spurred Hollingsworth to go to college. He attended Georgia Southern University as a Gates Millennium Scholar. After spending a semester studying business and not feeling particularly challenged, he decided to follow his passion and became a chemistry major. During his undergraduate studies he did research in computational chemistry with Karen Welch.
When Hollingsworth graduated in 2007, he was the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. It was a major achievement, but Hollingsworth wanted to go further with his educational pursuits. He chose to attend Louisiana State University because of its excellent reputation for training African American Ph.D. chemists. “I felt that I would receive the support I would need to flourish there,” he says.
Hollingsworth completed both a master’s and a doctoral thesis working on drug delivery systems with Paul Russo and Graça Vicente. During his time in graduate school, he visited China with his research group. The trip made him realize that he would have many more opportunities if he studied abroad. So when it came time to do a postdoc, Hollingsworth got a research grant from the National Science Foundation that took him to the Institute of Chemistry of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. There, he studied polymer physics with Charles Han for two years.
Life in Beijing was a big change for Hollingsworth, who grew up in a small Georgia town. His wife and one-year-old daughter relocated with him. Hollingsworth says the family eased into big-city life, and he picked up enough Mandarin to direct a taxi driver and order in a restaurant.
The scientific culture was different as well. In the U.S., Hollingsworth was accustomed to researchers finishing their workdays after dinner, but in China, he says, it was normal to return to the lab for a few more hours of work after the evening meal. “Seeing that work ethic was inspirational to me,” he says.
He returned to the U.S. in 2014 and worked as a visiting professor at Florida A&M University. The following year he took his current position as an assistant professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He teaches organic and environmental chemistry and runs a small research group that’s working on low-cost ways to remove heavy metals and bacteria from water using nanoparticles and pectin from orange peels.
Inspired by his time in China, Hollingsworth is trying to establish a study abroad program, in which students from his school will visit facilities in China to learn materials science. “I feel like every student should have that experience because it changes your perspective,” he says. “Even to this day, I’m amazed by how a small-town kid like me had an opportunity to travel abroad and work with leading scientists, all sparking from that one experience with Project SEED.”
To donate to Project SEED or learn about the program, visit www.acs.org/forward..