Congratulations to Sam Zinga for being named a Class of 2019 100 Senior Honorary! This award, given by the Emory Alumni Board and the Student Alumni Board, recognizes the success of 100 outstanding students in the current senior class. These accomplished individuals have made significant contributions to the Emory community by serving as leaders, mentors, athletes, influencers, volunteers, and thinkers. In alignment with their love for Emory, the 100 Senior Honorary members will act as alumni leaders after graduation by staying active in the Emory alumni community.
“It was kind of like there were two of me! On Monday, Wednesday, Friday I was doing chemistry and laboratories, and on Tuesday and Thursdays I studied the classics.” says Dr. Anne Gorden (EC’ 96) about her undergraduate experience at Emory. Her desire to study chemistry dated back to high school. Learning that her AP credits left her with space in her schedule opened up the opportunity to choose another field, too. So, between chemistry lectures and labs, (including undergraduate research with Emeritus Professor Al Padwa), Anne began taking classes in English, literature, classics, and Spanish. By the time she graduated, she had earned enough credits to double major in Chemistry and Literature.
Early in her academic career, Anne recognized the value of merging the fields of science and language. As an undergraduate, she had the unique chance to TA for a Quantitative Analysis course. She found that she needed to be creative and deliberate with her choice of words to effectively teach complex scientific concepts to a diverse student population. “You have to think about your audience when you’re putting together a presentation as a way to make it more approachable,” says Anne. Her ability to translate dense scientific topics into a language that everyone could understand mirrored her work in comparative literature, a field that explores culture, theory, and history across literary, disciplinary, and linguistic boundaries.
Anne opted to continue her education at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her PhD in Organic Chemistry working with Prof. Jonathan Sessler. Her graduate research focused on developing organic compounds for selective detection of actinides. Although the research laboratory was based in Austin, Anne spent about half of her graduate career traveling to Los Alamos National Laboratory to test her compounds. Once again, Anne was a scholar in translation, bridging her chemical interests in organic chemistry to an in actinide and lanthanide chemistry, ultimately steering her towards a postdoctoral appointment with the same theme at the University of California in Berkeley with Prof. Kenneth Raymond.
Now, as an Associate Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Auburn University, Professor Gorden is making great use of all aspects of her education. Research faculty spend a lot of time writing. Grants, manuscripts, course curriculum, reference letters… the list goes on. Fortunately for Dr. Gorden, her literature degree helped prepare her for the writing that accompanies her current position.
Before being hired, however, Professor Gorden remembers recognizing that she bridges the fields between organic and inorganic chemistry. The seemingly opposite fields can seem as unrelated as… well… chemistry and literature. Instead of viewing her situation as being split between two fields, she began to view it as an opportunity, as she had done back in undergraduate days at Emory. The two independent chemistry disciplines inform each other, making each more dynamic and well-rounded, just as her training in chemistry and literature do.
As a mentor, Professor Gorden aims to help her students reach their goals by presenting as many opportunities as possible. She serves as an advisor for the Association of Women in Science at Auburn University and helps to provide undergraduate women with a platform for support and networking. For Anne, the most important thing for graduate students is to be guided by passion and scientific creativity. “You have to find the spot that you fit in,” she says, “where there is a project that really inspires you, and where you are going to get the skills, the tools you need for your career.”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
Congratulations, Dr. Setteholm!
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.
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.
Congratulations, Dr. Hurtak!