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Sabine Boutet, Erica Smith, and Aurélie Mayeux
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Chemists, friends, and UH alumnae—three women forge dynamic careers in science and research.

Four years ago, Aurélie Mayeux graduated from the University of Houston with a master’s degree in organic chemistry. Today, she is a scientist working on a fuel cell project for Carbon Nanotechnologies, Inc., a Houston-based manufacturer of carbon nanotubes.

“I’ve always been interested in science, and I liked chemistry, so it was a natural choice to pursue this field,” she says.

Born in the small town of Saint Remy, France, Aurélie was raised in Africa, where she lived in Niger, Botswana, and Senegal, before moving back to France to attend the University of Montpellier and later the Lyon School of Chemistry, Physics, and Electronic.

In 2000, an exchange program through CPE-Lyon brought her to Houston to study under the supervision of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Chenzghi Cai.
“One of the things I enjoyed about UH is that classes are more personal, and you are taught to be independent, which allows you to grow as a scientist and develop your own research interest,” she says.

Through the same university exchange program, Sabine Boutet, raised in Tournus, France, turned down an offer from North Carolina State University to study with faculty at UH.

Graduating in 2004 with a master’s degree in organic chemistry, Sabine works for PPG Industries, located in La Porte, Texas.

“PPG Industries does a couple of things, one of which is manufacture pharmaceutical intermediates. For example, a pharmaceutical company may need intermediate products to synthesize a drug, so our plant makes it. I work in a laboratory to find ways to make our processes more efficient and less costly,” explains Sabine, who is continuing a family tradition—her mother and aunt are also chemists.

Stepping out of the laboratory and into the classroom, Australian Erica Smith chose a different career path than her two friends.

An associate professor of chemistry at Kingwood College, Erica completed her PhD in theoretical physical chemistry in 2004.

“My work is purely teaching and developing courses,” she says. “I tutored all throughout my PhD and realized I really liked it. My long-term goal is to be a policy maker in education, and I do think about going back into research at some point.”
Completing her bachelor’s degree in Sydney and her master’s in London, Erica was accepted to Columbia University to finish her PhD but chose UH so she could work with former UH Professor of Chemistry Tony Haymet, who has since returned to his native Australia.

“He’s a talented scientist and great mentor, who pushes you to work very hard, question yourself, and not make assumptions,” she exclaims. “He’s a brilliant teacher.”

 “It is great these students have gone on to successful careers, but it doesn’t surprise me,” says David Hoffman, Chair of the Department of Chemistry. “We consider our program to be as rigorous as any in the country, and we take great pride in making sure our students are ready to tackle difficult problems when they enter the workforce.”

© University of Houston 2006