A chemist for Cambridge

June 12, 2018
Merrick Pierson Smela, blond with a grin, poses next to the 3-d periodic table display in Kolthoff Hall.

As a boy, Merrick Pierson Smela was attracted to chemistry’s “stinks and bangs,” and he liked “watching things fizz and change color.” Today, the 2018 U of M grad has reaped more awards for his scientific prowess than will fit on this page. Among the highlights, he has won a National Merit Scholarship, and, last year, an Astronaut Scholarship—one that, he says, is particularly meaningful to him.

Earlier this year, Pierson Smela won a Churchill Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge’s Churchill College, where he will enroll in a Master of Philosophy degree program. A chemistry and biochemistry major, he had figured on entering a doctoral program right after getting a bachelor’s degree.

"However, the overall benefits of studying abroad vastly outweigh the cost of postponing my doctoral studies, and I am looking forward to my year at Cambridge," he says.

At Cambridge, he’ll tackle one of science’s biggest challenges: how to coax human stem cells into producing egg cells. He hopes to make a substantial contribution toward that goal, whose attainment, he says, would yield immediate benefits in treating infertility and developing an alternative source of egg cells for research.