As an Honors College chemistry major, Abigail Giarrosso landed a work-study job as a lab assistant at the university’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) laboratory. 

That job helped shape the course of her education and career plans. 

“They let me do everything,” says Giarrosso, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2017 and stayed to pursue her master’s in chemistry. “If I wanted to learn something, they would teach me.” 

One of her projects was working with TURI’s research manager to find a safer alternative to paint strippers that contain methylene chloride, a toxic chemical that has led to dozens of deaths. 

The researchers identified three existing safer chemicals that, when combined in a certain ratio, work as effectively as products with methylene chloride. A company has licensed the formula from the university and will have products in stores soon. 

“I am very lucky to have worked on a project that made a real and direct impact in consumers’ lives,” says Giarrosso, who plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry. 

Giarrosso traveled to Minneapolis in the summer of 2018 to work as a formulation chemist for a small startup company called Remooble. Drawing on her research experience at UML, she developed the testing protocol and found safer alternatives to remove permanent markers used on white boards. 

Now back on campus, Giarrosso has taken on her next research challenge at TURI: finding a safer alternative to acetone-based removers for gel manicures. Acetone can cause serious eye irritation, drowsiness and dizziness and long-term exposure may damage the central nervous and renal systems. 

“I’m excited to work on this project, which will protect the health of consumers and especially nail technicians, who may be exposed to acetone every day,” she says.