Student: William Bauer

William Bauer left his campus tour of East Carolina University knowing it was the school for him. “Really, I think it was the campus that made me choose it. I’m a big nature nerd, so all the big trees, the green space was awesome, the library was great. It’s a wonderful campus.”

Bauer has been interested in STEM since he was a boy but didn’t really know what he wanted to do as a career. His first high school chemistry class led to advanced placement chemistry and biology courses, and he was hooked. Once he got to ECU, he decided to pursue degrees in both biochemistry and chemistry.

His love of nature and the environment created interest in green chemistry, defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances. It applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, use and disposal.

“One of the things I try to take with me is a more green perspective, because I think as chemists we can get caught up in ‘can we make this?’ or ‘what will it do?’” Bauer said. “If we release this to market, it goes out. We don’t control what it does. Every carcinogenic material ever has been a result of that.”

For the past two years Bauer has worked part time as a water analyst in ECU’s engineering department, helping to support a university collaboration with Greenville Utilities Commission on watershed projects. “A lot of my work revolves around taking all of the samples and generating data on different elements to see if what they’re doing is working and what isn’t, so I’m doing a lot of behind the scenes on why they implement different things or they change filter material.”

His chemistry background also led to another part-time job managing chemical inventory and training new users on lab instrumentation.

This summer, Bauer is starting research on recycling cobalt compounds. “The inorganic labs on campus generate a bunch of complex cobalt waste, and I got together with two professors of mine and pitched an idea of how we could recycle it,” Bauer said.

In addition to helping the university save money, recycling in-house could remove potentially harmful compounds from the supply chain and generate less waste, Bauer said.

“Cobalt is detrimental to aquatic life, and it’s actually poisonous to plants in large quantities. Soil toxin, water toxin, keeping that out of the supply chain would be nice,” he said. “A lot of the stuff I’m doing, I think because of the biochem background, has to do with creating a cyclical nature of material. I could make stuff easily, but sometimes the breaking down part is difficult, so I want to bridge that gap.”

With two jobs and research on campus, Bauer said he’s moving back on campus for convenience for his final semester. He plans to graduate in December and hopes to continue his education by pursuing a master’s degree with a long-term goal of earning a doctoral degree.

“If I could get paid to do really nerdy stuff, that would be the dream job,” he said. One area he’s interested in is plastic degradation and possibly instituting a way to recycle plastics into different fuel precursors.

“ECU has been really good at giving opportunities. The work, of course, has been awesome to have a lot of on-campus jobs, but also the professors are really amazing,” Bauer said. “I’ve found curiosity gets you very far on this campus. If you show up and say, ‘I’m also interested in what you’re interested in,’ they are really willing to go above and beyond to get you where you need to be or at least let you try it.”

This Pirate is interested in making a healthier environment through green chemistry.


Name: William Bauer

College: Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Majors: B.S. in biochemistry with a biology concentration; B.A. chemistry

Age: 22

Classification/Year: Senior

Hometown: Jacksonville, North Carolina

Hobbies/interests: I enjoy hiking, amateur rocketry and golf.


Favorite hangout: Anywhere my friends are

Favorite place on campus: Joyner Library

Favorite place to eat: Chipotle

Favorite class: Organic chemistry

Professor who influenced you the most: Lisa Bennett

Favorite TV show: “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners”

Favorite band/musician:  The Longest Johns

Favorite movie: “The Princess Bride”

Favorite app: Reddit


Dream job: Chemistry professor/researcher

What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year? The availability of tutoring services and how willing professors are to talk with you about their classes.