Victor Ma, a fourth-year graduate student in the lab of Dr. Khalid Salaita, was recently selected as one of twenty-six Predoctoroal to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award Fellows from the National Institute of Health. This award will provide Victor with two years of funding to complete his doctoral thesis and an additional four years of funding for future postdoc training. In the Salaita lab, with co-mentorship by Dr. Brian Evavold, Victor’s research focuses on developing technologies to study mechanobiology at the molecular scale. With an ultimate goal of establishing an alternative mechanism for regulating T cell activity, he studies the roles of mechanical forces in T cell activation, whether these forces are coordinately controlled by mechano-sensitive proteins, and the importance of these forces for T cell biological function. The findings from these studies can provide insight into a potential strategy for developing effective immunotherapies.
In his postdoc, Victor plans on transitioning into the field of tumor immunology, where he hopes to capitalize on his skillset to elucidate the physical mechanisms responsible for preventing T cells from interacting with tumor cells. “My ultimate career goal is to become an independent investigator at a research-intensive university, where I can assume teaching duties and direct a research lab that combines knowledge from various disciplines to innovate career research,” says Victor. “This award will surely serve as a stepping stone to help achieve my goal!”
ChEmory, Emory’s undergraduate chemistry club, has been recognized by the American Chemical Society as a Commendable chapter for 2016-2017. This places ChEmory in the top 10-20% of all undergraduate ACS chapters.
2017-2018 is also shaping up to be an excellent year for ChEmory. The club has been awarded two ACS grants for activities–a Community Interaction Grant and a New Activities Grant.
Congrats to the ChEmory officers and members for all their hard work!
Emory’s Center for Selective C-H Functionalization has received a five year, $20 million renewal from the National Science Foundation. The CCHF is part of NSF’s Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) program that supports research centers focused on major, long-term fundamental chemical research challenges. The CCHF aims to bring about a paradigm shift in the logic of chemical synthesis, one that has the potential to impact the construction of all organic molecules. The Center is headquartered at Emory, but has satellite centers at research universities across the U.S. and internationally including UC Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, and Georgia Tech, among others. The CCHF also works with industrial collaborators, including Novartis, Merck, and AbbVie.
Center Director Huw Davies says, “We are very excited with this opportunity because we feel the momentum of the CCHF continues to build. An Outlook of the CCHF has just been published, which summarizes what we have achieved so far and where we plan to go in the future.”
As with all CCI, the CCHF also has an outreach mission, seeking to share their science with the public. They are regular participants in the Atlanta Science Festival and sponsors of the Graduate School Prep Club. The CCHF has also pioneered the use of virtual symposia offering talks by researchers that take place at one institution and are simulcast to partner centers and the public worldwide, reaching thousands of viewers.
Ian Pavelich (Dunham Group) has been awarded an Advancing Science in America or ARCS Fellowship. The ARCS Foundation advances science and technology in the United States by providing financial awards to academically outstanding U.S. citizens studying to complete degrees in science, engineering and medical research. The awards are focused on helping researchers at the startup or “seed stage” of their work and discovery.
Ian’s project is titled “Molecular mechanisms of antibiotic tolerance.” “The project focuses on identifying the molecular mechanism for how pathogenic bacteria confer an antibiotic tolerance phenotype or behavior without the requirement for genetic mutations,” says Ian. “Currently, we’re attempting to identify how different stresses, like classes of antibiotics, activate different enzymes that trigger antibiotic tolerance.” The research has potential implications for the future of public health: “As modern medicine would be impossible without the use of antibiotics, further investigating these novel systems as potential new antimicrobial strategies is incredibly important.”
The ARCS Award is an unrestricted $7,500 award given directly to the scientist and may be renewed for up to three years. When asked how the ARCS Award will affect his work, Ian says: “I think that ARCS will provide a layer of flexibility in how we choose to answer the questions targeted by my research. I am extremely grateful that the ARCS committee granted me these funds, and with them I aim to expand the scope of my studies using more interdisciplinary approaches. I also plan to use funds to attend a range of diverse conferences.”
Outside the lab, Ian has been involved in outreach at Emory, working on a chemistry event during the annual Science Olympiad for area high school students that focused on fundamental gas laws and their quantitative uses. Ian’s ties to Emory go beyond chemistry, too. This month, his partner will be joining the Political Science Department graduate program at Emory: “we’ll be doing our PhDs side by side!”
The Egap Group, led by Eilaf Egap, is an interdisciplinary research team interested in developing novel and well–defined macromolecular structures, elucidating structure-property relationships, and engineering new and creative technologies that address societal challenges in human health and alternative energy.
Brian Hays (Widicus Weaver Group) is honest when asked what it was like to write his dissertation. “The dissertation writing process was grueling,” he says. “I rewrote it several times and stayed up all night for many nights.” Developing the dissertation project was also a challenge. “There were a lot of challenges to getting the PhD, many of them experimental. Usually they involved something that had never been experienced before in the lab, and we would have to learn a new skill and apply it immediately to research.”
That hard work paid off. Brian successfully defended his thesis in April 2015 and in May 2016 he was announced as the winner of the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Dissertation Award for 2016. The award is intended to promote the emerging discipline of Astrochemistry within the PHYS Division of the ACS by recognizing an outstanding recent Ph.D. thesis submitted by an Astrochemistry Subdivision member. Brian will receive a $500 award and will give an invited presentation at the August 2016 ACS Meeting in Philadelphia.
Speaking to Brian, it’s clear that hard work and challenges on the road to the dissertation were met with a spirit of discovery and determination. “It was always very exciting to dive into something new [ . . . ] I was looking forward to building an experiment from scratch.” “Something new” for Brian included the development of novel spectroscopic methods that increased scanning speed by almost 100 times, leading to faster results. Mentoring support from advisor Susanna Widicus Weaver also made the journey towards the PhD easier. “Susanna was the person at Emory who most helped me towards getting the PhD,” says Brian. “Her mentoring and support is very important to me.”
The award-winning research that resulted is “primarily concerned with making and examining unstable molecules that may lead to prebiotic molecules in space.” The research relies on spectroscopic techniques that allow scientists to compare the results of an experiment to astronomical observations of star forming regions. “[We] see if we can make a molecule in the lab and detect it in space,” explains Brian. These techniques allow scientists to make informed observations about far-away regions of space from within the confines of the lab. For Brian, that didn’t completely rule out travel to places far, far away. He took advantage of Professional Development Support funds from the Laney Graduate School to perform astronomical observations in Hawaii.
Currently, Brian is a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue in the lab of Tim Zwier working on chirped pulse microwave spectroscopy. As in the PhD, Brian is seeking new capacities for existing tools “building up [Zwier’s] current instrument towards including mass spectrometry and towards new double resonance techniques.” Their next project will look at processes related to Titan’s atmosphere using these new techniques.
A theme of Brian’s dissertation and postdoctoral work seems to be the excitement he finds in new experiences, techniques, and questions. What does he find most exciting about what’s new and next for the field of astrochemistry? “I am most excited about the proliferation of rotational spectroscopy to more experiments in physical chemistry. This allows for a very high resolution picture of molecules that is state dependent and can be applied in a wide variety of experiments now, including those of astrophysical interest.”
A recent Emory Report article highlights the many early career faculty in chemistry who have been recognized by major funding agencies. In the list four years, four Emory chemistry faculty–Khalid Salaita, Chris Scarborough, Emily Weinert, and Susanna Widicus Weaver–have received the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award. These five-year grants support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar and the integration of education and research.
More recently, Francesco Evangelista became the first Emory faculty member to win an award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program. He will receive $750,000 over five years for his investigations of advanced electronic structure theories for strongly correlated ground and excited states. The methods and software developed in his research will provide new computational tools for studying problems relevant to basic energy science, including combustion processes, transition metal catalysts for energy conversion and the photochemistry of multi-electron excited states.
Graduate students aren’t often tasked with completing that classic elementary school assignment: “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” But Robert Kubiak has a great answer. After being accepted into Emory’s graduate program in chemistry, he got a jump start on his research by completing a summer rotation in the Davies Lab. This experience contributed to his successful application for the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Robert says: “One critical aspect that the reviewers said was helpful in my application was that I had already began to reach out to the community here in Atlanta and take on leadership roles at Emory. Doing a summer rotation before the fall semester was key to making these connections.”
The National Science Foundation received over 17,000 applications this year for the Graduate Research Fellowship program and made 2,000 award offers. As one of the 2016 awardees, Robert will receive three years of tuition and a stipend from NSF. The award is intended to recognize promising scientists at the beginning of their careers, giving them the resources to reach their career goals.
Before starting at Emory, Robert served as a platoon senior medic in the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion. He brings this unique leadership experience to his work in chemistry through a commitment to building community using science. “I am really interested in working to introduce scientific conversations to those who may not realize the profound impact science has on every aspect of our daily lives. I hope to encourage young students to embrace scientific discovery and pursue careers in the STEM fields,” he says.
Robert’s research at Emory takes place in the context of the NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization. “C–H functionalization is new, relevant, and rapidly changing the way we approach organic synthesis. C–H functionalization bypasses the need for traditional functional groups saving time, money, and reducing the waste associated with synthesis.” Robert’s research project focuses on developing novel catalysts for N-sulfonyltriazoles–nitrogen-based compounds. This research has the potential for broad impact as nitrogen is found everywhere in nature and is an important component of many pharmaceuticals. “Inserting nitrogen through functionalization will save time and money in pharmaceutical synthesis,” explains Robert.
The research also has the potential to lead Robert on new professional adventures. “The CCHF offers a study abroad component, and this research would facilitate a great opportunity to collaborate with the Iatmi group in Japan.” The NSF award also opens up the possibility to participate in NSF’s Graduate Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) program. “I would like to take advantage of GROW to study abroad,” says Kubiak. “It will be an opportunity to develop my ability to teach basic scientific skills—ideally in a community where access to higher scientific education is limited.”
Robert’s proposal was completed in chemistry’s Proposal Writing Course, led by Frank McDonald. Robert says that his experience in the course was “absolutely critical in articulating my past experiences in a meaningful way that made me a competitive applicant.” Robert hopes to draw on the resources of the award to further develop his own mentoring skills. “I plan on working very hard over the next couple of years to develop a robust understanding of organic chemistry, my skills as a research scientist, and my proficiency as a mentor in the field. Fortunately, these goals go hand-in-hand together.”