Chemistry major and talented researcher is recognized for her ambition, relentless spirit, and innovativeness
By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis
Chemistry major Anna DiFelice ’24 is one of three Lafayette College students to earn a prestigious and highly competitive 2023 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which was established to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. DiFelice, biology major Samantha Greenberg ’24, and biochemistry major Carter Brand ’25 are among the 413 Goldwater Scholars who were selected from an estimated pool of 1,267 nominees from 427 higher education institutions across the United States this year.
The students’ recognition also makes them part of Lafayette College’s long line of Goldwater Scholarship recipients: “Anna, Samantha, and Carter join an illustrious cohort of over 40 Lafayette students awarded over the last 20 years,” says Julia Goldberg, associate dean of advising and co-curricular programs and director of the scholarships and fellowships office at Lafayette. “As such, the College is one of the top producers of Goldwater Scholars.”
After testing the waters with several different STEM courses in high school, DiFelice started out as a chemical engineering major at Lafayette. Her plans, however, shifted gears when she joined a research project headed up by Arielle Mensch, assistant professor of chemistry, the summer after her first year at the College. DiFelice’s time in the lab quickly made her realize that her heart was in chemistry.
“Developing and testing hypotheses, performing experiments, and working through unexpected results refined my ideas of what science is,” says DiFelice, whose academic interests also include environmental science, nanotechnology, and mathematics. “What began as one research question branched into an unlimited number of possibilities.”
Alongside Mensch and biochemistry majors Abrienne Biondo ’24 and Anna Silver ’25, DiFelice has been researching how tiny pieces of plastic called nanoplastics enter and impact the environment, and how those biological effects can be prevented or ameliorated. Mensch, whose first year teaching at Lafayette also was DiFelice’s first year studying at the College, says DiFelice’s natural leadership skills in the lab, intellectual intensity, and unwavering drive to be successful not only helped the research project get up and running, but continue to drive it forward.
“Anna has a very strong potential to make significant contributions to whatever research field she chooses,” Mensch says. “She constantly asks questions, probes topics deeply, and is engaged and excited about what she’s working on in the lab or learning about in the classroom. She is a leader and an outstanding person; she radiates energy, excitement, and a dedication to learning that is among the best of all the researchers I’ve worked with in my career.”
Goldberg concurs, noting that “Anna is not in the least bit daunted by the vicissitudes of experimental research. In fact, she brings tremendous insights and innovation to that research. She is the real thing and is destined to have a stellar research career whether in academia or industry.”
But what Mensch enjoys most of all about working with DiFelice is her fun-loving spirit and positive attitude: “She makes my job fun,” Mensch says. “Even when things aren’t working in the lab or an experiment goes wrong, Anna comes to my office with a smile on her face, grabs some candy, and sits down to chat about how to troubleshoot the issue. I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to work with Anna during her time at Lafayette, and I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship. I’m very proud of her, and I can’t wait to see what her future holds.”
DiFelice says she is grateful to Mensch for her mentorship and her assistance with writing the research proposal, as well as to Goldberg for her guidance through the Goldwater application process. She also gives special thanks to Mike Bertucci, assistant professor of chemistry, and Melissa Gordon, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, for recommending her for the scholarship.
“I recommended Anna for the Goldwater Scholarship because her curiosity, intellect, and diligence were apparent in the materials science course she took with me,” Gordon says. “I’m very excited for her.”
“Anna was such a strong candidate for the award given her high academic achievement, interdisciplinary scientific interests, and her inventiveness and originality both in the laboratory and as a student leader across campus,” Bertucci adds.
DiFelice is currently looking into graduate schools, such as Cornell University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she hopes to earn a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. In the future, she hopes to teach at the university level. In addition to conducting research, DiFelice serves as president of Alpha Phi Omega, an international service fraternity through which she engages in various forms of community work, such as tutoring. She also is a musician.
As a Goldwater Scholar, DiFelice will receive $7,500 toward tuition for the 2023-2024 academic year, and she will join a community of prominent scientists and scholars who received the award in the past.
“I’m just so excited, because I didn’t think it would happen,” she says of her scholarship win. “I looked through applications of previous winners, and they were all just so amazing. I’m honored to be among them.”