Alumni Spotlight “Round-Up”

The Emory University Department of Chemistry is fortunate to have an outstanding group of alumni with diverse career trajectories in academia, industry, and beyond. Here’s what a few of them are up to…


Susan Richardson

With over 20 years of experience, former research chemist at the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Susan Richardson shares her insights about working at a government agency.

 


Shana Topp

After earning her doctorate degree in chemistry from Emory and completing a post-doctoral fellowship at UC-Berkeley, Dr. Shana Topp shifted her focus from bench science to consulting with the Boston Consulting Group.

 


Yang Liu

At Emory, he developed a method for visualizing mechanical signaling now used in labs across the country, earning him the Quayle Outstanding Student Award. Dr. Yang Liu works as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Taekjip Ha at John’s Hopkins University Medical School.


Chris Curfman

Once a determined graduate student in the lab of Dr. Dennis Liotta, Dr. Chris Curfman has capitalized on his passion for science with a career in intellectual property law and has been recognized as a “Rising Star” in the legal profession in Atlanta.

 


Kristoffer Leon

Upon earning his undergraduate degree in chemistry and completing his honors thesis with notable acclaim, Kristoffer Leon enrolled at the University of California, San Francisco where he is pursuing his MD/PhD.

 


Kornelius Bankston

With a deep-rooted passion for innovation and impact, Kornelius Bankston was motivated to develop a career at the intersection of science and business. As the Director of Bioscience Ecosystem Expansion with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, he is helping to enhance the diverse scientific ecosystem in Georgia.


Brian Hays

Dr. Brian Hays, recipient of the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Dissertation Award, is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue in the lab of Dr. Tim Zwier, where he works on chirped pulse microwave spectroscopy.

 


Xiaohong Wang

As a software engineer with Snap Inc., makers of the popular “Snapchat” app, Dr. Xiaohong Wang capitalizes on the skills she gained during her graduate work at Emory to contribute to the development of a platform for digital communication and storytelling.

 


Anthony Prosser

Strength in communicating scientific information won Dr. Anthony Prosser the Three-Minute Thesis Competition while at Emory and is now benefitting him as a Patent Agent with Knowles Intellectual Property Strategies, LLC.

 


Carolyn Cohen

At Emory, Carolyn Cohen explored chemistry in the lab and abroad as a participant in the popular Summer Studies in Siena study abroad program in Italy. Today, she is a PhD student in the lab of Noah Burns at Stanford University.

 


 

Alumni Spotlight: Kornelius Bankston, From Bench to Business

Kornelius Bankston

When reflecting back on his graduate work with the Emory University Department of Chemistry, Kornelius Bankston remembers his scientific endeavors with the Lynn Group to be ambitious. “I had this grandiose idea to develop a therapeutic using amyloid fiber sequences that self-assemble into tubes,” says Kornelius. “That was my big vision statement.” This “think big” mentality and enthusiasm for progress led him to seek opportunities that would couple science with business. “I enjoy innovation and have been able to navigate towards roles that really help express that part of my interests.”

After graduation, Kornelius worked for a startup company led by Dr. Dennis Liotta, where he got the chance to truly experience the interface between science and business.  From there, Kornelius took on a project manager role with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, where he worked to bring large scientific companies, such as Baxter Pharmaceuticals, to Georgia. During his time with the department, Kornelius refined his business acumen and developed invaluable professional networks, but he missed the scientific and technical aspects that motivated his interest in business to begin with. To bring the scientific context back to his business ventures, he opted to go to business school at Georgia Tech to study management of technology.

With his MS in biomolecular chemistry and his MBA in management of technology, Kornelius was equipped with the training to pursue his professional goals. He worked at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) as Program Manager for the Office of Translational Technologies. During his time in this position, he developed the first marketing campaign for MSM’s intellectual property at the 2012 BIO International Convention, developed and implemented protocols for licensing of the intellectual property, and negotiated the first industry sponsored clinical trials in the Division of Industry Collaborative Research.

Now, Kornelius is involved in several business ventures. He started a campaign called “I AM YOUR” to bring awareness to communities that lack engagement in healthcare regarding men’s health and prostate cancer. In addition, as the Director of Bioscience Ecosystem Expansion with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, he is helping to enhance the diverse scientific ecosystem by seeking funding opportunities to retain, recruit, and grow companies in Georgia. He is a member of several boards including the Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership (ICRP) for publicizing Georgia as a life-science hub and the Georgia Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) board focusing on the health-IT community in Georgia.

Although his educational and professional history is full of diverse experiences, there are two clear themes that have steered him along his path: community engagement and scientific progress. He explains that he wants to 1) show that science can be fun and exciting and 2) improve the health of people through technology and therapeutics. “I enjoy innovation,” says Kornelius. “Hopefully, one day, I will get to lead a company around this whole concept of developing a therapeutic or technology, and taking it to the next level so people can actually utilize it on a broad spectrum.”

While Kornelius gathered the skills necessary to be successful in the realms of science, technology, and business through academic experiences and professional training, he lends credit to Emory for his problem-solving skills. “The graduate school experience helped my problem-solving ability across sectors, across disciplines. To look at a problem and say, ‘Okay, this is a problem’ and ‘How do I address this problem in a systematic way?’” This skill has proven to be indispensable in his current pursuit of a diagnostic for prostate cancer, where he is motivated to solve the problem of healthcare access for minority men in a way that is engaging and effective.  Kornelius also emphasized the importance of networking during the process of transitioning into the workplace.  He explains that, while it can sometimes feel a bit unnatural to initiate new relationships with people in the field, the ability to communicate effectively to people across a spectrum of familiarity with the science is vitally important. To connect with people in this way allows one to share ideas, learn from others, and potentially open doors to new and exciting opportunities.

Overall, Kornelius wants to encourage students to listen to their guiding internal voice when deciding a career path. “One of the things that I would like students to know is to not be afraid to challenge the norm,” says Kornelius. “Take all the advice and feedback people give you, but also be true to yourself and what you are really led to do.” He explains that he always had an innate interest in business, but the opportunities to engage with people and learn how business operates would have been missed had he not listened to his internal voice and challenged the idea at the time that academia was the best path. “Be true to what you are passionate about because I think it will always pull you back.”

Congratulations, Dr. Kyle Giesler!

On Friday, October 20th, Kyle Giesler successfully defended his thesis, “The Design, Synthesis, and Evaluation of Novel LipidProdrugs for Nucleoside Analogues.” Kyle’s thesis committee included his thesis advisor, Dr. Dennis Liotta, and members Dr. Khalid Salaita and Dr. Frank McDonald.

During his time at Emory, Kyle designed a novel prodrug strategy for tenofovir and other antiviral nucleosides that “unlocks” their therapeutic potential and significantly rivals well-accepted conjugation strategies used in the clinic. His research contributed to 8 publications and a patent application. In addition, Kyle initiated a collaboration between Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine, developed analogs for the treatment of chronic viral infections and cancer, and was awarded the Graduate Diversity Fellowship awarded to outstanding graduate students showing academic excellence and “exceptional promise as future leaders in their fields”.

Looking forward, Kyle plans to pursue a post-doctoral position at U.C Berkeley with Dr. Nirem Murthy where he intends to jump into bioengineering and develop delivery strategies for genome editing technology. After that, Kyle hopes to land an industrial position at the interface of chemistry and biology and be a part of a creative and team that operates at the forefront of human knowledge to design and discover novel therapeutics to change the course of human disease.

Congratulations, Dr. Giesler!

Alumni Career Seminar: From Science to Snapchat

Xiaohong Wang

On Friday, September 29th, the Department of Chemistry welcomed back one of our distinguished alumni, Dr. Xiaohong Wang. Since earning her PhD in Chemistry, Dr. Wang has been working as a software engineer with Snap Inc. During her talk entitled “First Impression of Working in Industry- From Chemistry PhD Student to Engineer at Snap Inc.”, Dr. Wang outlined her professional journey and gave us a peek into her life as a Snap Inc. software engineer.

Dr. Wang earned her Bachelor’s degree in chemical physics from the University of Science and Technology of China. From there, she joined the Emory community and completed both her Master of Science in computer science and her Doctor of Philosophy in computational science in the Bowman Group before taking up her position at Snap, Inc.

Snap Inc.—makers of the popular “Snapchat” app—is a camera company founded in 2011 that believes “reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.” Snapchat is used by over 150 million people every day to connect with others all around the world. The company is constantly working to build and develop the best platform for communication and storytelling. Software engineers like Xiaohong contribute to this vision by evaluating the technical tradeoffs of decisions, performing code reviews, and building robust and scalable products.

The transition from chemistry to computer science, although seemingly a major change in profession, turned out to be quite a natural one for Dr. Wang. During her graduate studies in chemistry, she received training in numerical techniques, data analysis, programming, writing, and problem solving. These skills have proven to be invaluable for her engineering position with Snap, Inc., and she credits much of her success as a software engineer to the training she received during her time at Emory. For instance, during the interview process, Dr. Wang was asked to write a program on her own computer—something that came naturally thanks to her PhD work.

Perhaps more difficult than the change in profession was the transition from graduate school to industry. “There are many things we need to learn, like new techniques, how to communicate with managers and colleagues, and how to adjust our expectations,” Dr. Wang said. She explained that her current position relies heavily on teamwork and maintains a fast working pace in a way that is very different from graduate school. Xiaohong also shared that she is the only woman on her particular team at Snap, Inc. Overall, she finds the environment welcoming and has developed relationships with fellow women in tech.

Overall, while this transition from graduate school to industry required her to acquire a new set of skills and adapt to a new environment, Dr. Wang has hit her stride with the company. Having spent several months working on the company’s first piece of hardware, Spectacles that let users take photos directly from the frames, Dr. Wang said, “The launch of the product is really exciting for the whole team, the whole company, and I feel very proud to be part of it.”

The Emory Department of Chemistry is fortunate to have an amazing group of alumni who have gone on to pursue impressive careers in a variety of fields. The successes of these individuals remind us how capable we are of reaching our own goals and motivate us to continue chasing our dreams. Thank you to Dr. Wang for taking the time to visit Emory and share her journey with us!

This special seminar was made possible via support from the Emory Laney Graduate School Alumni Office.

Previously:

Congratulations, Dr. Wallace Derricotte!

Wallace Derricotte with Francesco Evangelista following his defense.
Wallace Derricotte with Francesco Evangelista following his defense.

Wallace Derricotte successfully defended his dissertation, “Development and Applications of Orthogonality Constrained Density Functional Theory for the Accurate Simulation of X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy,” on Wednesday, June 28th, 2017. His committee was led by Dr. Francesco Evangelista with Dr. Joel Bowman and Dr. Susanna Widicus Weaver as additional members.

During his time at Emory, Wallace was an Emerson Fellowship recipient as well as a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Recipient. Up next, Wallace will join the chemistry faculty at Morehouse College as a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor.

Congratulations, Wallace!

Previously:

Congratulations, Dr. Noah Setterholm!

On Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017, Noah Setterholm successfully defended his thesis, “Investigations of exo-Mode Oxacyclizations for the Synthesis of Cyclic Ethers”. Noah’s thesis committee included his advisor, Dr. Frank McDonald, and members  Dr. Simon Blakey and Dr. Lanny Liebeskind.

After his defense, Noah and his wife, Hannah, moved to San Diego, California where Noah is now a postdoc in the laboratory of Dr. Gerald Joyce at the Salk Institute.

Congratulations, Dr. Setteholm!

Congratulations, Dr. Eric Andreansky!

Eric Andreansky successfully defended his dissertation, “Synthetic Studies Toward Methanoquinolizidine-Containing Akuammiline Alkaloids ” on Wednesday, April 26th, 2017. Eric’s committee was led by Simon Blakey with Frank McDonald and Lanny Liebeskind as additional members.

Eric was a Laney Graduate School Woodruff Scholar. He was also a service instructor for the Emory NMR Research Center and interned for a year with the Emory Office of Technology Transfer. Eric was also a member of the first Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) cohort, a National Institute of Health-funded graduate training program run jointly with Emory and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Eric plans to pursue a career in patent law.

Congratulations, Eric!

Congratulations, Dr. Jessica Hurtak!

Jessica pictures in the Derek Tan Lab, Chemical Biology Program, Sloan Kettering Institute.

On Friday, May 16th, 2017, Jessica Hurtak successfully defended her thesis,”Exo-mode oxacyclization strategies for synthesis of trans-fused polycyclic ethers: the ABC ring sector of brevenal”. Jessica’s thesis committee included her thesis advisor, Dr. Frank McDonald, and members  Dr. Simon Blakey and Dr. Nate Jui.

Currently, Jessica is a postdoc in the laboratory of Derek Tan at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Congratulations, Dr. Hurtak!

Congratulations, Dr. Michael Sullivan!

Michael Neal Sullivan successfully defended his dissertation, “Electronic Spectroscopy of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Group IIA Metallic Oxides ” on Monday, April 10th, 2017. Michael’s committee was led by Michael C. Heaven with Tim Lian and Susanna Widicus Weaver as additional members.

During his time at Emory, Michael received the 2012 Outstanding TA Award for his work in physical chemistry lab. He also completed two internships (summer 2013 and 2014) at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Albuquerque, NM. 

Next up, Michael will start a postdoctoral position with Dr. Lei Zhu at the New York Dept. of Health, Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY at the end of June.

Congratulations, Michael!

Welcome, Morgan McCabe!

Morgan McCabe has joined the Department of Chemistry staff as Lead Research Specialist. She will be working with labs–from design to implementation–across the undergraduate curriculum.

“I am excited to work with the TAs and professors and help ensure their labs are working smoothly. I hope to be a resource for both TAs and professors and make their lives a little easier when conducting the labs,” says Morgan.

Morgan is new to the Department of Chemistry staff, but not to the Department of Chemistry. She gradauted this Spring with an M.S. in chemistry from the Widicus Weaver Group.

“My thesis research was in the areas of astrochemistry and millimeter-wave spectroscopy. I worked in a lab setting to find the rotational spectrum of a few molecules of astrochemical interest including aminomethanol and the methoxy and hydroxymethyl radicals,” says Morgan. For those of us who aren’t astrochemists, Morgan explains the significance of rotational spectrum:  “Since a rotational spectrum acts like a fingerprint for a molecule getting lab data of these molecules can help us determine if the molecule is present in chemically active star-forming regions.

Morgan’s interest in chemistry makes her a perfect fit to drive undergraduate engagement in the lab. Her own college experience in the lab is what led her on a path towards the chemistry degree and graduate school. “I enjoyed chemistry when I was in high school but I became truly passionate about it in my freshman year of college, when I did a research project with Steve Shipman looking at the rotational spectra of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). I enjoyed the puzzle-like nature of chemistry, especially spectroscopy, and I have been hooked since.”

Morgan’s new office is Atwood 380C inside the chemistry Main Office suite. She can be reached at mnmccab [at] emory [dot] edu.