Like a lot of students, Brenna Norton-Baker thought she wanted to go to medical school. Biology, she thought, would be her major. Then, she took organic chemistry as a freshman and everything changed. Brenna loved the subject matter, and that opened up a number of doors for her.

“I enjoyed organic so much that I asked the professor at the end of the semester if I could work in his lab. He said yes, and I became a full-time, paid research assistant for the summer.” Brenna worked on the development of a new antibiotic, and the following semester, she earned academic credit working in the same lab on an anti-cancer drug.

On top of her coursework, Brenna continues to work in different labs, including an organic synthesis lab, where she was trained to work in ventilated hoods. “I was really privileged to be doing that as a sophomore. I can’t believe how much I learned, not only about the topic and performing air-free synthetic techniques, but also about working with other people. We had to do a lot of presentations. I had to present posters and do oral presentations, often just within the department, but also at conferences. That really helps you build confidence.”

As an acknowledgment of her efforts, Brenna won a Goldwater Scholarship – one of only three ever awarded to College of Charleston students. She agrees that biochemistry is demanding, but says she still finds time for things such as participating in Alpha Chi Sigma – the professional chemists society. “We do a lot of science outreach with elementary school students. One favorite of mine is an experiment we call Fluffy’s Toothpaste, which involves a reaction that sends foam exploding 10 feet in the air. The kids always love it.”

After graduating, Brenna plans to intern with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado where she’ll conduct research. After that, she hopes to attend graduate school and pursue more research opportunities in biochemistry.

Chemistry - Brenna Norton

Contact Information

Marcelo Forconi
department chair
Department of
Chemistry and Biochemistry


Our students thrive in a challenging environment where they are supported by talented, accomplished faculty and enjoy state-of-the-art facilities as well as ample opportunities for hands-on experience and faculty-mentored research.

The courses we teach serve as a foundation for many other disciplines, including atmospheric science, environmental science, material science, environmental law, pharmacology and more.

The biochemistry degree provides a firm foundation for graduate study in biochemistry, chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology and other life sciences, and a strong basis for students who want to pursue careers in medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.