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.”
Congratulations to Robert Kubiak (Davies Group) and Roxanne Galzier (Salaita Group) for being awarded 2016 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation! Robert is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Roxanne is a graduate student in the Emory/Ga Tech joint Biomedical Engineering program.
Congratulations also to Anthony Sementilli (Chemistry, Lynn Group) and Aaron Blanchard (BME, Salaita Group) who received Honorable Mentions.
For the 2016 competition, NSF received close to 17,000 applications, and made 2,000 award offers.
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.
Congratulations to Simon Blakey , receipient of a 2009 NSF CAREER award for outstanding young investigators. From the NSF website:
CAREER: The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from junior faculty members at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.
Emory researchers–including Craig Hill, Tim Lian, and Jamal Musaev— recently received a $900,000 grant from the DOE’s Office of Science to develop a more robust and efficient way to convert solar energy into fuel.