Suffolk Chemistry Major Catches a WAVE

First-gen Ram completes prestigious Caltech summer fellowship
Breno Silva, Class of 2022

Breno Silva, Class of 2022, participated in the WAVE Fellows program last summer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Last spring, Breno Silva, Class of 2022, was urged by Suffolk Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Denyce Wicht to get out of the classroom — and even away from the East Coast — for the summer.

She saw an opportunity for one of her hardest-working students to apply for the prestigious WAVE Fellows Program at the California Institute of Technology, an initiative that aims to foster diversity by increasing the participation of underrepresented students in science and engineering Ph.D. programs.

Wicht’s advocacy for career readiness is nothing new to her students, in fact she is “always looking to help students with opportunities like this,” says Silva. “I was excited right away … I knew it would be good for my growth as a scientist.”

He was overjoyed to be accepted, and during his stay in Pasadena this summer, Silva conducted research in the lab of Professor Ryan Hadt at Caltech’s Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Their research focused on nickel-based compounds that act as catalysts to make new molecules, which have promising benefits in the industrial, medical, and pharmaceutical fields.

Silva describes his WAVE Fellows participation as “one of the highlights of my college experience.” “This program was very rewarding, helped me to grow, and do something that I love,” he says. “It also allowed me to meet a lot of people that shared the same interests as me.”

Silva also had a chance to work alongside many graduate students in Prof. Hadt’s office, and said it has been a boon to his senior year as an undergraduate. “I learned a lot of skills that are helping me now in the research I’m doing at Suffolk,” he says.

Back on campus and thriving

Silva has hopes of continuing his studies in graduate school, with a long-term goal to do research focused on environmental science and inorganic chemistry. “I want to contribute knowledge that will make the world a better place,” he says.

Currently Silva is thriving in his senior year at Suffolk, where he is treasurer of the University’s chapter of the American Chemical Society, a national organization. In addition, he is a peer tutor in three disciplines — chemistry, math, and writing — and a tutor mentor for the Center for Learning & Academic Success.

He is also a McNair Scholar. Founded in memory of the late Challenger astronaut and laser physicist Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the McNair Scholars Program helps first-generation and low-income students overcome the educational, financial, and social barriers that can make graduate school seem like an unattainable goal.

To cap off his senior year in the lab, Silva is working on a research project with his Suffolk mentor, Professor Wicht, examining how soil bacteria enzymatically produce inorganic sulfur to synthesize biomolecules that are necessary for life.

“Breno is mature, professional, and well-organized; characteristics consistent with a high-functioning experimental scientist,” said Wicht. “The peer review process is what moves science forward, and Breno has a unique ability to process feedback and use it to redesign his experimental approach in order to strengthen his chemical conclusions.”

“These have been the most rewarding and unforgettable years of my life,” says Silva. “I am very grateful for all the opportunities made possible through Suffolk and for its crucial role in my professional and personal growth.”


Tony Ferullo
Office of Public Affairs

Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs