Chemistry major Sam Zinga has been named the 2019 McMullen Award Winner. The McMullen Award is one of the most prestigious awards given by Emory College to graduating seniors. Sam joined the Widicus Weaver Group as a high school intern from the Gwinnett School of Mathematics and Technology in the summer of 2014. In addition to continuing undergraduate research with the Widicus Weaver Group, Sam served as a peer leader with Dr. Antonio Brathwaite in physical chemistry courses during his time at Emory. He is headed to Yale University School of Medicine to pursue a year-long research position next fall. In future, he plans to pursue an MD/PhD.
Young Emory scientists wanted a taste of what biotech business careers might be like. So they visited the world’s largest poultry industry conference, and got advice from officials at the Food and Drug Administration – all within a couple months.
“I learned a ton about chickens – more than I thought possible. I’ve been explaining it all to my friends,” says Henry Zecca, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.
Zecca’s experience and others emerged at a “Gala” Tuesday evening showcasing the Emory Biotech Consulting Club, which aimed to pair student advisory teams with fledgling startup companies emerging from university research.
“It was when we saw diffraction spots at high resolution for the first time! I spent a year setting up about one hundred crystallization trials and subsequently screening hundreds of beautiful crystals with not much success. It was very emotionally taxing to be sleep-deprived (most of our synchrotron times were during the night) and have your precious crystals diffract poorly. While I understood spending a year attempting to perform X-ray crystallography is not much time, as a starting graduate student, I couldn’t help but feel that I was a failed crystallographer. That one crystal ended up being all I needed, and the structure, along with the biochemistry, seemed to fall into place. We collected the X-ray data in October 2018 and wrote the paper in 3 months.”
Rachel Kozlowski (Dyer Group) has been awarded the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship for the 2019-2020 academic year. Dean’s Teaching Fellowships are selected based on progress towards completing the Ph.D. degree as well as a strong commitment to teaching. This year, 12 students were awarded the fellowship, which provides financial support through a $19,000 stipend.
As a Dean’s Teaching Fellow, Rachel will be designing and teaching a section of CHEM-150: Structure and Properties as an instructor of record this coming fall. CHEM 150 is the first course in the Chemistry Unbound curriculum and focuses on starting students in their chemistry studies with an “atoms first” approach.
“Being awarded this teaching fellowship is an excellent opportunity for me, as my career goal is to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI),” says Rachel. “Professors at PUIs have a much greater emphasis placed on teaching, so while I will still have a small undergraduate research group, most of my job responsibilities will involve teaching students. Having the opportunity to be an instructor of record while still working towards my PhD degree is invaluable.”
Shannon Rivera successfully defended her dissertation, “Elucidating the Various Roles of the Globin Domain from Globin Coupled Sensors”, on March 21st, 2019. Shannon’s committee was led by Emily Weinert with Brian Dyer and Stefan Lutz as additional members.
During her time at Emory, Shannon was supported by an Emory Graduate Diversity Fellowship as well as a Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority (CSURM) Fellowship. She was also recognized with the department’s Outstanding T.A. Award for Analytical Chemistry in 2014 and the Quayle Outstanding Student Award in 2018.
Shannon has also been involved in several student organizations including Pi Alpha Chemical Society (PACS) where she served for one year as Vice President of Community Service and the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) where she served consecutive terms first as Co-Social Chair and then as Communications Chair. She has also been a long time member of the Chemistry Graduate School Prep Club sponsored by the NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, serving as President in 2017 and 2018. CGSPC connects Atlanta-area undergraduates from PUIs and HBCUs (including Agnes Scott, Spelman, Morehouse, and Clarke-Atlanta) with mentors who help them to connect with mentors who can help them navigate the graduate school application process . Shannon was instrumental in bringing CGSPC students to Emory for an on-site mentoring event. “They got to talk to faculty, grads, and post-docs about admissions and the struggles of being under represented in the sciences. The effect the event had of them and the fact that it cemented the drive to go to graduate school for those students, that is what made it a huge accomplishment for me,” says Shannon.
Scientifically, Shannon’s work was recently recognized with an invitation to give two oral presentations at SERMACS and GRS/GRC Metals in Biology. SERMACS receives well over 1,000 applications for oral applications and awards only 12-15 spots. “Scientifically though, the most fun and impactful accomplishment was successfully crystallizing my protein, BpeGlobin,” says Shannon. “It was fun because my protein is red, so my crystals are red! They came in different shapes, but you could always see them. It is also very important for my scientific community because its the first crystal of the signaling domain of a Globin-coupled sensor with oxygen in the pocket; the gas responsible for activating the protein.”
At Emory, Caitlin’s work focused on developing structurally specific time-resolved infrared techniques to probe fast protein dynamics in vitro. Her work at Emory was supported by the highly competitive Clare Booth Luce (CBL) Scholar Program Graduate Fellowship as well as a Scholarly Inquiry and Research (SIRE) at Emory HHMI Fellowship, both from Emory’s Laney Graduate School. “As part of the fellowships, I spent about ten hours a week meeting with students and developed a course around professional development, science communication, and science ethics,” says Caitlin. “The positive experience I had mentoring these students was one of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in academia.”
Caitlin’s work at Emory was also recognized with the 2010 Outstanding T.A. Award for Physical Chemistry and a 2013-2014 Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Scholarship. In 2014, she won the Public Dissertation Abstract Award in Emory’s annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.
More recently, Caitlin was an NSF Center for the Physics of Living Cells Postdoctoral Fellow in the Gruebele Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Work in the Gruebele lab allowed Caitlin to take her Emory experience in new directions as the lab pioneered efforts to move the temperature jump technique that she learned in the Dyer lab into living cells. Caitlin investigates bimolecular interactions between proteins and RNA using 2- and 3-color fluorescence microscopy and to collect measurements in cultured cells and zebrafish larvae.
At Yale, the Davis Lab will use spectroscopic imaging to quantify biomolecular interactions in living cells, contributing to a better understanding of diseases arising from the misregulation of proteins and RNA.
Caitlin credits Dr. Dyer’s mentorship with helping her to develop as an independent researcher and cultivating her interest in academic research. “When I entered Emory, I was interested in pursing a career in industry,” explains Caitlin. In the Dyer Group, Caitlin was allowed to pursue her own research ideas. Her original ideas resulted in twopublications (among nine total published during her time at Emory) and sparked her interest in an academic career that would allow a similar level of creative control over her research. Furthermore, she decided that an academic career would allow her to pursue a passion for mentoring young scientists sparked through her Emory fellowship experiences. “I find it incredibly fulfilling to see my mentees succeed. I’m excited to be in an environment where I can continue to assist with the development of future researchers.”
Caitlin will carry her Emory experience into her work at Yale. “The faculty at Emory have been my role models for how to balance research, teaching, and mentoring. As a graduate student I was supported not only in my research, but also to mentor in the lab or teach a course. This prepared me for the job market, because I had the hands-on experience to build an approach for teaching, mentoring, and outreach in addition to research.”
First Person: Caitlin’s Career Advice to Graduate Students
My tip for graduate students and postdocs is to start early and have a career development plan.
Dr. Dyer had us meet with him once a year to discuss our goals for the upcoming year. I used it as an opportunity to not only discuss my projects and publications, but also my professional and career development. For example, one of my goals was to improve my public speaking. We worked to find as many opportunities to present at local and regional meetings as possible so that I could become more comfortable presenting my work. This helped me better understand how I personally need to prepare to give a great talk.
I felt confident going into the job market this year, because I had prepared the first versions of my documents as a graduate student! As part of one of my graduate fellowships I developed a teaching statement and my original research proposal became part of one of my research proposals. Because I’ve been revisiting these documents for years, I’ve had time to refine them.
There are also many workshops specifically designed to assist with preparing for the job market. I participated in the NextProf Science workshop at University of Michigan, the Postdoc to Faculty workshop at the National ACS Meeting, and the Illinois Female Engineers in Academia Training (iFEAT). These workshops pair you with faculty and other applicants who review your application and give you feedback. Having many perspectives on my proposal helped me better balance project specific details with the broader impacts.
Alum Dr. Wallace Derricotte (Evangelista Group) has been awarded a Research Initiation Award from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $224,936. Wallace is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Morehouse College. The award, entitled “A Symmetry-Adapted Perturbation Theory Approach to Reaction Force Analysis”, will increase the research capacity of the Chemistry Department at Morehouse while creating more opportunities for STEM students.
Wallace received his B.S. in chemistry from Morehouse College in 2013 and his Ph.D. from Emory in 2017. During his time at Emory, he received the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award.
Fifth year graduate student Qi Yu (Bowman Group) has received an award from the China Scholarship Council. The award is considered the highest honor given by the Council in recognition of a student conducting graduate studies outside of China who does not receive financial support from the Chinese government.
To date, the recipients include students studying in 33 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Australia and Canada. More than half a million Chinese students leave China to study abroad each year, making this prestigious award highly competitive, with only 500 students awarded yearly. The award includes a one-time $6000 cash award and a certificate.
“Qi has done outstanding work on the quantum dynamical description of protonated water clusters, from the potential to the vibrational dynamics. He has joint papers with top experimental groups in the world working in this research area,” says his Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Joel Bowman.
Sadly, the Department of Chemistry isn’t really becoming the Department of Cat-Mistry. Alongside research and teachingexcellence, our scientists have a sense of humor. While we aren’t ready to turn our back on the real science of chemistry, we do deeply appreciate the cats (and their people) who helped us kick off April with a smile.