Elaine Liu Receives ARCS Award

Elaine Liu
Elaine Liu

Elaine Liu (MacBeth Group) has been awarded an Advancing Science in America or ARCS Fellowship. The ARCS Foundation advances science and technology in the United States by providing financial awards to academically outstanding U.S. citizens studying to complete degrees in science, engineering and medical research. The awards are focused on helping researchers at the startup or “seed stage” of their work and discovery.

Elaine’s project is titled “Elucidating the mechanism of cobalt-mediated C-H functionalization.” She will investigate how to make more reliable, less expensive catalysts for sustainable use in chemical and pharmaceutical synthesis, potentially making life-saving drugs more accessible and affordable. 

In her own words, Elaine explains: “Organic chemists have shown the utility of readily available cobalt in catalyzing cross-coupling reactions by providing a relatively fast, simple, and high yield pathway for these reactions. However, the catalytic step has not been well characterized, leading to a trial-and-error approach in its implementation. By studying the cobalt-based reactivity in a step-wise manner, the mechanism and mechanistic requirements of the activation event can be mapped out. Elucidating the activation requirements will, in turn, allow for more targeted and complex carbon cross-coupling reactions.”

Elaine’s research advisor, Cora MacBeth, highlights the way that Elaine’s research takes advantage of the resources of the Emory University Center for X-ray Crystallography.  “Her studies have focused on understanding the step-wise bond forming processes by analyzing stoichiometric transformations using spectroscopy and single molecule X-ray diffraction – in collaboration with the X-ray Crystallography Center at Emory.  Her research has helped identify previously unreported (and un-proposed) intermediates in these catalytic processes.  She will use these findings to aid in the development of new reactions.”

The ARCS Award is an unrestricted $7,500 award given directly to the scientist and may be renewed for up to three years. In addition to advancing her research, Elaine plans to use the ARCS award to expand her outreach efforts in the Atlanta community. Outside the lab, Elaine is the vice President of Outreach and Academic Affairs for Pi Alpha Chemical Society.  The group frequently visits local elementary schools and museums to share science demos. Elaine plans to create a blog that will catalog these chemistry demonstrations and lectures. “[I] would like to keep track of what worked and what concepts were suited to the children as well as make these experiments and their materials accessible for home schooled students and students in underfunded and underprivileged schools.” A blog will also be an opportunity for Elaine to share her experiences as a woman scientist, raising the visibility of women scientists more generally and contributing to diversity in outreach as well as in research.

After Emory, Elaine hopes to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution, sharing her love of chemistry with another generation. 

Congratulations, Elaine!