Graduate Student Profile: Jacob Burman

Jacob Burman

For Jacob Burman, choosing Emory for graduate school meant a cross-country move from his West Coast seaside stomping ground. Three years later, travel opportunities with the graduate program have led him even farther afield, from wandering the streets of Osaka to working in an office with a breathtaking view of Lake Geneva, allowing Jacob to couple two of his greatest passions: travel and chemistry.

Before starting graduate school at Emory, Jacob graduated from California Lutheran University with a bachelor’s in chemistry and a minor in mathematics. As an undergraduate, Jacob conducted research in the lab of Dr. Jason Kingsbury, where he worked to optimize a formal carbon-insertion into carbonyl compounds using diazoalkanes. Jacob’s undergraduate experience gave him scientific training and technical skills, but also instilled in him a sense of curiosity and passion. “I always loved the idea of building or shaping the world with chemistry,” says Jacob. “I always knew I wanted to do chemistry, but I didn’t know I wanted to do organic chemistry until I had taken my first class.”

The CCHF map of the global network of research institutes focused on C-H Functionalization.

Jacob is currently in his third year working on his Ph.D. research in the lab of Dr. Simon Blakey. Research in the Blakey Lab focuses on the foundations of chemical reactivity, catalysis, and synthetic strategy, with potential impacts on solar energy conversion, touch-screen display technology, and therapeutics. The group is involved with the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization (CCHF), which just received a five year, $20 million renewal from the National Science Foundation. The CCHF mission is “to leverage the potential of the center to develop technology for selective C–H functionalization that will revolutionize the practice and reshape the teaching of chemical synthesis, empowering end users in the material sciences, fine chemicals development and drug discovery.”

The CCHF actively promotes collaboration, and building relationships with other scientists and the public is central to the Center’s work. “The CCHF has developed strong collaborations with many international researchers and offers an exchange program for our students to study abroad for up to three months,” says Dr. Huw Davies, CCHF Director. “Conducting a meaningful research collaboration in an international setting is a great career development opportunity. The CCHF actively encourages its students to be involved in international exchange programs with our collaborators in Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.”

Jacob cites Emory’s involvement with the CCHF as one of the many reasons he chose to come here for graduate school. “Emory just seemed like a really good choice. There were so many opportunities that I could see myself benefitting from while being a student with the CCHF,” says Jacob. These opportunities came early when, as a first-year, Jacob travelled to Japan with the CCHF, visiting partnered organizations for a workshop on inspiring international collaboration. He spent a week engaging with other scientists in his field, learning about their research, and sharing his own. “As a student in the CCHF you are exposed to a wonderful array of different disciplines, and you learn new scientific vocabularies and techniques through this exposure,” adds Dr. Dan Morton, Managing Director of the CCHF.

Jacob enjoyed his time in Japan so much that when a second opportunity to travel abroad presented itself, he jumped on it. At the end of his second year, he spent two months at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. During his time abroad, Jacob collaborated with Dr. Nicolai Cramer and his group to engage in asymmetric catalysis for the next step in developing his synthetic method. Shortly upon returning from Switzerland, Jacob authored his first paper entitled, “Regioselective Intermolecular Allylic C-H Amination of Disubstituted Olefins via Rhodium/π-Allyl Intermediates” in Angewandte Chemie. Jacob explains, “More than 60% of pharmaceuticals advertised and out on the market contain a nitrogen as the key component for activity. Any new, interesting, or insightful way to develop amination technology can give more powerful tools for developing pharmaceuticals.”

View of Lausanne, Switzerland from the Cramer Lab at EPFL.

“Jacob worked incredibly hard to develop a new reactivity platform, opening up a new research program in the lab,” says Jacob’s research advisor, Dr. Simon Blakey. “His commitment to the project allowed him to publish the initial communication of this work within 12 months of starting the project, and set the stage for the next phase of the work which was carried out with our collaborators at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland.”

Now Jacob is focusing on optimizing and building upon the techniques outlined in his publication. Most recently, he travelled for a third time to Charlotte, North Carolina where he presented his research at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (SERMACS). In the future, Jacob plans on finding a post-doc position with an ultimate goal of one day becoming a professor at a research institution where he can navigate his own scientific exploration.  “I really like thinking and talking and doing chemistry and I would like to do that for the rest of my life,” he says.


Arial view of EPFL on the coast of Lake Geneva.