Take a minute to think about what you’re wearing right now. Not the colors or cuts of fabric you grabbed out of your closet this morning—but the textiles your clothes are made of.
Before your clothes became clothes, they were raw resources that were collected, processed, woven into textiles, then cut and sewn into the garments on your back. And their life cycle doesn’t end there. Nearly 90% of clothing takes an inevitable trip from closet to landfill. The problem is that although this process provides short-term convenience for customers and the fashion industry, in the long run, it’s not sustainable. Making and transporting clothes consumes raw materials and, at every step in the process, emits greenhouse gases.
Ask Brandon Presley about any twist and turn in his chemistry journey, and he’ll tell you about people: The high school teacher who gave him the courage to sink his teeth into chemistry; the family and friends who encouraged him; and the mentors and colleagues who gave him focus when he’d spread himself too thin. For Presley, that deep connection between chemistry and people motivates him every day.
Yajaira Sierra-Sastre is always looking for new worlds to explore. As a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, she gazed at stars through a clear night sky. “My first passion was for anything related to astronomy and planets and stars and space,” she says. Sierra-Sastre fell in love with science during childhood, and went on to study chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.“I could see chemistry all around me,” Sierra-Sastre says. After graduating, she started on a path to connect her studies with the real world in as many new ways as possible. “I had this desire of just going out on an adventure.”
In the 20 years since, she has used her degree to teach high school chemistry; earn a PhD making nanomaterials for space experiments; help create new types of textiles and batteries; spend months living in a Mars simulation; and oversee the research projects that keep printed money secure.
Laura Hoch’s career began with a murder. Well, not a real murder—a murder-mystery game staged by her high school chemistry teachers in central Pennsylvania.
“There would be all these clues, and then you put together a forensic report based on all you’ve been able to find out by analyzing stuff,” she says. “It wasn’t on my radar to be a chemist, but I just had that memory of chemistry being really fun and interesting.”