Student Spotlight: Notes from a Dancing Scientist

Laura Briggs performing their solo, Backtalk. Photo by Lori Teague.

By: Laura Briggs (EC ’19)

Most college students are used to answering the age-old question, “So what are you majoring in?” But people aren’t usually expecting the response, “I’m majoring in chemistry and dance!” Usually, they assume one of two things: 1) I want to dance, but my parents made me take up the chemistry major for job security, or 2) I’m serious about science, and the dance major is “just for fun”. These assumptions are almost always followed by the sarcastic question, “So what are you going to do with that?”

In reality, my parents did not force me to major in chemistry, and I take my dance classes just as seriously as my science classes. And as for the question about my future, I intend to pursue careers in both research science and professional dance. I don’t see why I have to choose between one and the other. At Emory, there are many students who are drawn to both science and the arts, but they struggle with prioritizing their passions and making decisions about what to pursue. My response is that life is much too short to give up something you love, so I have decided not to give up anything I love. My two fields inform each other, forgive each other, and infuse my life with balance, inspiration, and excitement.

You might find it hard to believe, but being a dancer makes me a better scientist. There are many skills that scientists need, but aren’t taught in their undergraduate science classes. Communication skills, interpersonal skills, creative thinking, and versatility are all great qualifications for graduate school, but most science classes reinforce lecture-style learning, independent work, rote memorization, and specificity.

Dance, on the other hand, exercises a completely different part of the brain and a much more widespread skill set. Communication is a vital part of being a dancer, whether you are teaching dance, writing a reflection paper, collaborating with other artists, or just talking about your experience in class. An embodied, experiential discipline built on empathy, dance teaches you to understand other people, be flexible (both physically and mentally), and think outside the box. These skills transfer directly from the studio into the science lab; thanks to my dance major, I am comfortable collaborating, asking for help, communicating my work, and trying new things.

Of course, there are other benefits to having two disparate lives on campus. Dance is a solace from the rigor of academia, too. Nobody will tell you that being a chemistry major is easy, especially when juggling extracurricular responsibilities, lab work, and taking care of my adorable pet lizard Ada Lovelace. But when I step into the studio for dance class every day, I am encouraged to leave everything else at the door and focus on myself, my body, and my artistry. It’s self-indulgent in a healthy and necessary way. After I leave the studio, sweaty and satisfied, I can return to the chemistry building refreshed and ready to study again.

The biggest takeaway from my time as a double-major is that no one should have to compromise one passion for the sake of pursuing another. In fact, having multiple equally-demanding facets to your life can be rich and exciting. So next time someone tells you that they’re majoring in chemistry and dance, or environmental science and religion, or computer science and classics, don’t raise your eyebrows! Instead, celebrate the fact that we go to a school where you can do both, and encourage those students to keep being interesting, pushing boundaries, and seeking connections.

Laura Briggs is a junior double-majoring in Chemistry and Dance & Movement Studies. Laura works in the Weinert lab in the Chemistry Department, trying to understand the chemical mechanisms behind plant pathogens. They are a Woodruff Scholar, the founder of the Emory Women in STEM House, and a nominee for the Goldwater Scholarship. Laura’s hobbies include caring for their pet lizard, Ada Lovelace. After college, Laura wants to pursue a Ph.D in biochemistry with a focus on plant chemistry.


Recruitment Weekend 2018 Recap

What a wonderful weekend of chemistry and community as we welcomed our 2018-2019 recruiting class to our beautiful campus! We hosted over 50 recruits last weekend and had the chance to show them all the great things that our program has to offer. The weekend featured collectible faculty cards, matching baseball tees, a poster session, and many fun activities, from bowling to hiking.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, mentors, and faculty members who helped us organize and achieve such a fun weekend. Events like this remind us how amazing our department truly is!

And thank you to all of our recruits for spending the weekend with us! For information on how to respond to an Offer of Admission, please refer here.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu.

We look forward to hearing back from you, and thanks again for a great weekend!

Graduate Student Spotlight Round-Up

The Emory Department of Chemistry is an epicenter of cutting-edge research in organic, inorganic, biomolecular, and physical chemistry fueled by its motivated and passionate graduate students. We have featured a few outstanding graduate students in previous blogs who embody the mission of our department to engage in teaching and research efforts as a collaborative scientific community. With Recruitment Weekend kicking off today, it is the perfect time to reflect on some of the accomplishments and experiences of a few of our graduate students.

Roxanne Glazier

Roxanne Glazier of the Salaita Group is a student in the Biomedical Engineering Program, a joint graduate program shared by Emory and Georgia Tech. For her research on developing novel methods to elucidate the mechanobiology of podosomes, Roxanne was recognized with the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a funding opportunity providing financial support to promising scientists early in their careers.



Robert Kubiak

Robert Kubiak of the Davies Group joined the Chemistry PhD program at Emory after serving as a platoon senior medic in the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion. His research project focuses on developing novel catalysts for N-sulfonyltriazoles-nitrogen-based compounds, with an ultimate goal of saving time and money in pharmaceutical synthetic processes.




Brian Hays

Brian Hays of the Widicus Weaver Group defended his thesis in April 2015 and, a year later, was recognized as the winner of the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Dissertation Award. His award-winning research was focused on making and examining unstable molecules for their potential to lead to prebiotic molecules in space.



Yang Liu

Yang Liu of the Salaita Group defended his thesis, “Developing Nanoparticle-based Tools to Investigate Mechanotransduction at the Living/Nonliving Interface” in September 2016. In addition to his research on how our immune system can recognize and eliminate pathogens or cancer cells, he helped developed a technique for using single elastic molecules, such as DNA, protein, and polymer, as sensors to visualize membrane receptor mediated forces.


Jacob Burman

Jacob Burman of the Blakey Group has already seized two study abroad opportunities with the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization (CCHF) since joining the Chemistry PhD program at Emory. His research focuses on the foundations of chemical reactivity, catalysis, and synthetic strategy, with potential impacts on solar energy conversion, touch-screen display technology, and therapeutics.

Carli Kovel (MacBeth Group) Named Bobby Jones Scholar for Study in Scotland

Carli Kovel, recently featured here in an Undergraduate Spotlight, has been named one of Emory’s Bobby Jones Scholars. This award, given to students selected for their academic excellence, exemplary character, and integrity, will allow its recipients to spend a year studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.  Carli currently conducts research in the MacBeth lab and is interested in catalysis and “green chemistry”.

In the Emory News Center article, Carli says:

“The opportunity will provide me with international perspectives on utilizing chemistry to solve global environmental issues. This will eventually enable me to become a catalyst for change, through chemical catalysis.”

Congratulations, Carli!

Welcome Graduate Student Coordinator, Ana Maria Velez!

The Emory Department of Chemistry is pleased to welcome Ana Maria Velez as our new Graduate Student Coordinator.

Ana grew up in Bagota, Colombia. After earning her Bachelor’s in biology from Xaverian Pontifical University and her Master’s in environmental management from Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Ana worked as a marine biologist with the Institute of Marine and Coastal Research (INVEMAR). Shortly thereafter, Ana relocated to Atlanta, where she worked at the Art Institute of Atlanta as a Financial Aid Officer and Enrollment Processor and at the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design as the International Student Advisor. Her scientific training and education, joined with her student affairs experience perfectly prepared Ana for her current position as the Graduate Student Coordinator with the Department of Chemistry.

Ana speaks three languages, English, Spanish, and French, and spent six years living in the rainforest while working on sea turtle conservation.  When she isn’t providing administrative support for the graduate program, faculty, and students, Ana enjoys swimming, cycling, visiting art exhibits, and spending time with her husband and cat.

Ana’s office is located at Atwood 380K inside the chemistry Main Office suite. She can be reached at ana [dot] velez [at] emory [dot] edu.

ChEmory Awarded Travel Grant for the 225th ACS National Meeting

ChEmory, Emory’s undergraduate American Chemical Society Student Chapter, was recently awarded the National Meeting Travel Grant for the 255th ACS National Meeting. The meeting this year, which will take place in New Orleans, LA between March 18th and 22nd, is titled “Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water”. The $300 grant award will provide financial support to members of ChEmory who will be traveling to New Orleans to attend the national meeting.

Congratulations, ChEmory!!

In Memoriam: Dr. Keiji Morokuma

It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Keiji Morokuma on November 27th, 2017. In 1993, Dr. Morokuma joined Emory University as Director of the Cherry L. Emerson Center for Scientific Computation and  William Henry Emerson Professor of Chemistry. In 2006, Dr. Morokuma became William Henry Emerson Professor Emeritus before beginning his final academic position as Research Leader with the Fukui Institute for Fundamental Chemistry at Kyoto University.


Dr. Morokuma was an expert on electronic structure theory and applications, having authored or coauthored more than 900 papers, many review articles and several books. He received numerous awards, directed many scientific centers, and served as president of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences.


Dr. Morokuma was a loving husband to his dear wife, Eiko, father of three sons and one daughter, and grandfather of two grandchildren. He will be remembered by his colleagues and friends for the enthusiasm and energy he brought to everything he did, from science to tennis. He will be deeply missed.


[Read More]

Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Ronald Hunter, Jr. and the Importance of Diversity

Dr. Ron Hunter holding the Coca-Cola ambassador pin.

What makes a scientist? In his current position, as an Analytical Chemist at The Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Ron Hunter helps achieve and maintain the high-quality products that we have come to expect from the global beverage company. What he brings to the company, however, reaches far beyond his scientific expertise. As a diversity in STEM advocate, a leader and mentor to those around him, a free sample-lover, and an overall achiever, Dr. Hunter brings a distinctive skillset and an unrivaled passion to his scientist role.

Dr. Hunter began his academic journey at Mercer University with a plan to study Spanish. After deciding to pursue a pre-med track, he found that he excelled in his chemistry classes, and shortly thereafter, became a Spanish and Chemistry double major. After graduation, he decided to pursue his PhD in analytical chemistry from Emory University. During his graduate studies, Dr. Hunter was particularly interested in the intersection of chemistry and public health, so upon earning his degree, he went to work in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Fellow. Returning for graduation, he learned of an opportunity at Emory as a post-doctoral research fellow with the Rollins School of Public Health. From there, he became an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Research Chemist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before ending up in his current position with The Coca-Cola Company.

The Coca-Cola Company, the world’s largest beverage company, provides over 200 countries with nearly 3,900 beverage choices. The company, founded in 1886, has its global headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr. Hunter works in the Analytical Services Lab (ASL) for the Americas. “The goal of our lab is to maintain quality by becoming the subject matter experts for the product,” says Dr. Hunter. “So that we can troubleshoot and make sure that the consumers are getting the best product and that the business units are making the product in the best way possible.” Recently, Dr. Hunter has been working to build dairy capabilities for the ASL.

Coca-Cola’s contributions reach beyond the realm of beverages. The company has received numerous awards for diversity and equality, including a 100% rating on the human rights campaign’s corporate equality index for the 11th consecutive year and a ranking among the top 50 companies for diversity by Black Enterprise magazine. These accolades reflect the company’s commitment to its mission statement: “Mirror the richly diverse markets we serve, capitalizing on our inclusive culture to attract, develop, engage, and retain a global talent mix to fuel our competitive advantage.”

Dr. Hunter contributes to this mission by participating in the LGBT, African American, Hispanic, and KOGen multi-generational business resource groups. These groups are designed to cultivate diversity, engage the community, and provide the company with alternative perspectives on marketing, communication, and consumerism. These efforts allow The Coca-Cola Company to connect with specific consumer populations in a way that is more specific and relatable.

In addition to culturally personalized marketing, the company also designs marketing campaigns that traverse cultural boundaries. “The best thing that Coke does, that crosses all diversity lines,” says Dr. Hunter, “is that they’re not selling a product, they really are selling a feeling, they are selling emotions.” #tastethefeeling

Outside of his advocacy work with The Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Hunter also advocates for minority representation in the sciences by participating in the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and serving as a member of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) and the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Recently, Dr. Hunter accepted appointment by the 2018 American Chemical Society President to serve as an Associate to the Committee on Minority Affairs, a joint committee of the Council and Board of Directors, and as a Consultant to the Committee on Membership Affairs, a Standing Committee of the Council, for 2018. To Dr. Hunter, the pursuit of diversity shouldn’t be driven by the desire to meet a certain standard or hiring criteria, but should instead be seen as a requirement for creating an enriched environment in the workplace and engaging the heterogeneous global population.

When reflecting on the decisions and opportunities that got him to where he is today, Dr. Hunter credits experiential variety, unwavering individuality, and strategic serendipity. By remaining flexible and setting himself up for possible opportunities, he found that more opportunities presented themselves. Being diversified in experiences and training has provided him with a myriad of skills and enhanced marketability.

With diversity as a theme throughout his own career, Dr. Hunter encourages current students to be open to a variety of possible career paths and training opportunities. “Do not think of yourself as being all over the place if you have many talents and desires for your career,” says Dr. Hunter. “Do not let anybody dissuade you from being multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary.”

Research from the Kindt Group Featured in eScienceCommons

James Kindt (center), his graduate students (from left) Xiaokun Zhang and Lara Patel, and mathematics graduate students Olivia Beckwith and Robert Schneider. Photo by Stephen Nowland, Emory Photo/Video.

New research from the Kindt Group was recently featured in eScienceCommons. The Kindt Group, in collaboration with students in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, has developed a new method to calculate equilibrium constants using small-scale simulations. The software, which reduces computing time using tricks derived from number theory, has been named PEACH for “partition-enabled analysis of cluster histograms”. Moving forward, this method will give scientists the ability to simulate the behavior of numerous molecules and explore how molecular structures dictate assembly.

“‘Our method will allow computational chemists to make better predictions in simulations for a wide range of complex reactions — from how aerosols form in the atmosphere to how proteins come together to form amyloid filaments implicated in Alzheimer’s disease,’ says James Kindt.”

[Full Article]

Chemistry Unbound Highlighted in Emory Magazine Feature on Innovative Education

Emory Magazine recently ran a feature highlighting some of the innovative curriculum that makes Emory a national leader in liberal arts and science education. The feature mentioned Chemistry Unbound, the new undergraduate chemistry program, which is designed to allow a more cohesive understanding of chemistry through its interdisciplinary courses.  From the article:

“The idea is that you’re not just learning the facts, but also learning the chemistry behind how the world works,” says Doug Mulford, a senior chemistry lecturer and director of undergraduate studies for Emory’s chemistry department. “You’re also seeing how to construct a scientific claim and use evidence and reason to explain your argument. That level of critical thinking transcends chemistry.”

[Full Article]