Professor Francesco Evangelista and chemistry student Junchu Zeng were both recognized for their accomplishments at the Phi Beta Kappa initiation ceremony at Emory on Tuesday, November 15th, 2016 in Canon Chapel. Students elected to Phi eta Kappa are asked to name a faculty member “who has encouraged and helped students to excel, and who exemplifies intellectual rigor and enthusiasm for scholarly pursuits.”
The Emory College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Gamma of Georgia, was founded in 1929. Emory students are elected to the society based on scholarship, breadth of culture, and general promise. Ten percent of U.S. colleges and universities have Phi Beta Kappa chapters and chapters select only ten percent of their arts and sciences graduates to join.
In November and December, Emory is hosting a special series of Merck lectures on process chemistry. Merck is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Emory is only the third graduate school to host lectures in this series—previously, the Merck lectures were held at Berkeley and Princeton. The lectures are part of a special graduate course being taught by Dennis C. Liotta and Huw Davies, CHEM 729R: Special Topics in Chemistry: Process Chemistry in Research.
The lectures are part of the “Preparing Future Innovators” series developed by the NSF-funded Center for Selective C-H Functionalization. Preparing Future Innovators offers lectures that prepare chemistry graduate students for a broad range of future careers via interactions with leaders in chemical industry.
The Merck lectures feature Merck leadership working in the field of process chemistry. The lectures seek to highlight the important differences between process chemistry and medicinal chemistry, particularly the ways in which process chemists can develop techniques that help to bring medical innovations to the public. Students attending the lectures will be better prepared to understand the differences between medicinal chemistry and process chemistry and will therefore by better able to consider a range of careers that apply chemistry to human health.
In addition to the lectures, visitors are attending meet-and-greet and lunches with students. Huw Davies, the Director of the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, says “This is a great opportunity for our students and faculty to become familiar with cutting edge research in the pharmaceutical industry, and for the Emory chemistry department to develop a close relationship with Merck.”
Merck Lectures in Process Chemistry Schedule
All lectures take place from 4-6pm in Atwood 360.Current Students, there will be a Meet-and-Greet with Merck visitors at 11am on the day of each lecture in Atwood 316.
November 1st, 2016:
Merck Process Chemistry: Discovery & Development Of Innovative Synthetic Methods To Drive Best Chemistry
Rebecca T. Ruck, Ph.D.
Director, Process Chemistry, Merck Process Research & Development
Merck Milestones in Chemistry: Medicine through Inspired Science
Michael H. Kress, Ph.D.
Vice President, Process Research and Development, Rahway NJ
November 29th, 2016:
Enabling High-Throughput Experimentation through High-Throughput Analysis
Yun Mao, Ph.D.
Director, Analytical Research and Development, Merck Research Laboratories
High-throughput Experimentation For Chemists: Rationally Designed Large Arrays Of Experiments For Solving Complex Chemical Problems
Associate Principal Scientist, Catalysis Laboratory,Department of Process Research & Development
December 6th, 2016:
Biocatalysis At Merck
Matt Truppo, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Merck & Co., Inc
Best Chemistry And World Class Supply
Ian Davies, Ph.D.
Department of Process Research & Development, Merck & Co., Inc.
Kevin Yehl and Aaron Blanchard (Salaita Lab) have advanced to the national finals in the 2016 Collegiate Inventors Competition in Alexandria, Virginia. Their invention, Rolosense, turns chemical energy into rolling motion.
Founded in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition recognizes and rewards the nation’s top collegiate inventors. In partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Collegiate Inventors Competition is the nation’s foremost competition encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity in students who are working on cutting-edge inventions at their colleges and universities. The Competition is a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and is sponsored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and AbbVie Foundation, with additional support from Arrow Electronics.
For more on their achievement, check out this article in the GA Tech/Emory Biomedical Engineering program newsletter.
The forensics tour was a success: very informative, and great for recent Emory graduates majoring in chemistry looking for a job right out of college or just for people (like myself) really interested in learning more about the forensic sciences!
We were given a tour of the Division of Forensic Science where we learned about the most common illegal substances used in the Atlanta area. We were shown impressive sequencing machines, areas where TLC techniques were performed, and we learned about gas chromatography-mass spectrometry machines. We learned about the process involved with testing materials to determine the substance composition, the purity, and the age. We also learned a lot about the job application process and the training required to be a field agent. My personal favorite part of the tour was getting to see a recent case: we passed by a room with 2000 pounds of marijuana in bags that was being analyzed for prosecution purposes.
When Chris Curfman (00G) entered Emory, he could not have imagined where he would end up two decades later. After completing a PhD in chemistry, Chris shifted his focus away from academic research to pursue a career in intellectual property law. Since then, he has been named a Georgia Super Lawyers “Rising Star” by Atlanta Magazine and became a founding member of Meunier Carlin & Curfman, which has since evolved into one of the largest intellectual property firms in the Southeast. In a climate where more PhD students pursue careers outside the professoriate, Chris’ story is an inspiration. “While we are all united by our intellectual curiosity and our love of science, this common drive can diverge into various fulfilling careers,” says Chris. From his trials and triumph with his research at Emory to his self-discovery and transformation into the rising star that he is today, Chris has accumulated a vast wealth of memories and insight, which is highlighted in this edition of Alumni Spotlight.
During graduate school, Chris joined the lab of Dennis C. Liotta, who would have a profound impact on his trajectory. Chris undertook a particularly difficult thesis project working with sphingolipid analogs. The process of constantly overcoming challenges instilled in him the crucial lifelong value of perseverance that would later prove pivotal outside of the lab. This determination was also critical in prevailing over another personal challenge. While Chris had always fostered a passion for teaching, he grappled with a fear of public speaking. As one of the graduate qualification exams, he was required to present his research in front of the entire Department of Chemistry student body. He recalls that he would “enter the conference room when it was empty and practice over and over again.” He went on to deliver a successful talk. Invigorated by this positive experience and his innate passion for teaching, Chris began to actively seek out opportunities for public speaking, which paved his way to standing on the podium of Emory law school as an adjunct professor.
Nonetheless, Chris’s time at Emory was not “all work and no play.” Chris has fond memories of his time as the president of the Pi Alpha Chemical Society. He recalls organizing graduate events, such as movie nights and picnics, to promote social interaction and collaboration amongst graduate students. To him, “It was a fun and great environment. It was a place where you could set aside the work and just talk and socialize.”
During Chris’ last year of graduate school, his advisor began to take notice of his skill at technical writing and public speaking, as well as his proficient interpersonal skills. Realizing that Chris’ skill set complemented the profession of patent law, Liotta catalyzed Chris’ foray into the world of patent law by inviting him to events where he could network with established lawyers. It was at one of these events that Chris had a fateful meeting leading to an interview offer. That was an electrifying time in Chris’ life. Within the span of that final summer in graduate school, Chris managed to simultaneously complete 3 milestones: defending his PhD, gaining acceptance into law school, and receiving a job offer working in a law firm.
After Chris completed his J.D. at Georgia State University, he practiced several years at a small intellectual property firm. However, that firm was acquired by a much larger general practice and Chris found himself at a crossroads. Chris felt that the large firm business model did not align with his own passions and goals. Chris wanted to retain the close relationships with his clients and have the opportunity to devote more time and attention to their needs, yet he found this more difficult in a large general practice firm. It was at this pivotal moment that Chris received a life-changing phone call from a former colleague who shared a similar vision. That initial conversation ultimately blossomed into a group of eight like-minded patent lawyers who pooled together their resources and brought their vision to a new company. When asked about his emotions at this time, Chris said, “this was both a thrilling and terrifying period in my life. I had to invest everything I had into this venture, including putting my life savings on the line, but I could finally do what I had originally set out to do.” At long last, he had the autonomy to become the champion he had dreamed of becoming for clients who must navigate the treacherous waters of patent law.
It has been nearly two decades since Chris made that decision to transition from lab work to law, but all the lessons he learned during graduate school still serve him well today. Chris says that he finds his current profession to be fulfilling and fun, and he feels fortunate to be involved in a career that allows him to intersect science with people, especially being in a position to be able to help others achieve their goals. When asked what words of advice he would give to current graduate students, he implored encouraged them to “never give up, finish their Ph.D., practice public speaking and effective writing, and network whenever you can.” Chris’ journey serves as an inspiration for the next generation of students looking to apply their doctoral studies to broader society.
Yuan Chang is currently a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Khalid Salaita. She entered Emory in 2011 and has been studying live cell tension using molecular tension fluorescent microscopy (MTFM).
Last summer, I began my graduate career at Emory University doing research for Dr. Nate Jui in the Department of Chemistry. In his lab I was exploring how ureas and carbamates can be taken advantage of for use as catalysts in the ortho-functionalization of aniline and phenol, respectively.
I tested these reactions under several sets of conditions. By the end of the summer, I learned that neither of the reactions worked. I even tried making the palladium-carbamate complex to see if the first steps in the catalytic process were going as they should. It turns out, that wasn’t working either.
This was frustrating for me, as my two undergraduate projects had been successful, with virtually no setbacks. But I learned that when nothing works, you sometimes have to go one step back to (eventually) go two steps forward. As someone who grew up afraid of failure, I am only now realizing that it is the thing that drives new ideas and creativity, as long as we can learn and grow from it.
Overall this rotation was a good learning experience. I was able to transition into graduate life, become familiar with the facilities, and make some new friends without the stress of classes.
Michelle Leidybegan her studies at Emory in the summer of 2015 and is an Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) fellow. Currently, she is a member of the Scarborough Group working on synthesizing catalysts that can activate hydrogen peroxide by using second sphere hydrogen bonding, which would be useful in challenging industrial oxidation processes. Outside the lab, Michelle enjoys music and the arts, and can often be found going to concerts, plays, or swing dancing the night away if not relaxing at home. After graduation, Michelle hopes to continue her career doing research in a lab.
Chemistry graduate students are well-represented among AWIS leadership–Amanda Dermer (Heaven Group), AWIS President and Helen Siaw (Dyer Group), AWIS Graduate Student Council Representative were among those who attended the event. Alumni and student attendees came from GDBBS and psychology as well as chemistry.
Founded in 1971, AWIS is the largest multi-disciplinary organization for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Their mission is to drive excellence in STEM by achieving equity and full participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors. AWIS reaches more than 20,000 professionals in STEM with members, chapters, and affiliates worldwide. Membership is open to any individual who supports the vision and mission of AWIS.
Solar powered cars, boulders, and the expiration date of milk—these are just some of the everyday touchstones that Wallace Derricotte (Evangelista Group) connects to the chemical equations on the chalkboard during a recent classroom session for students taking part in the EPiC Summer Experience. Campers are engaged and attentive—and not at all passive. The class progresses as a conversation, with students connecting the lesson to previous classes as well as their own lives. Wallace handles the student-teacher interaction with calm and good humor and it’s clear to an outside observer that his enthusiasm for what he’s teaching is instrumental to making the classroom exchange so lively.
EPiC—which stands for the Emory Pipeline Collaborative—is a science enrichment program offered through the Emory School of Medicine. The program gives high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds a hands-on opportunity to explore careers in the health professions through labs, lectures, and field experiences. For many campers, their engagement with EPiC begins during the school year with Wednesday evening session on Emory’s campus. However, students can also apply and be accepted into EPiC for the summer only.
In addition to familiarizing students with science careers, EPiC introduces students to the college experience. Participants stay on campus for eight weeks, living in the dorms and eating in the dining halls.
After a recent classroom session on reaction processes, I had an opportunity to speak with four campers—Chanaya, Dakota, Omar, and Prynce. Eager to share their thoughts on how well the program approximates college life, the students were quick to hone in on one of the major differences between college and high school: the food.
“We really eat like college students,” said Chanaya.
“I’ve only eaten pizza since I’ve been here,” admitted Dakota.
Beyond the food, students described getting a real sense of what college is like, including being responsible for their own schedules and being a part of a busy community. “We get to experience the hustle and bustle of college life,” said Prynce. “I like that we had a lot of freedoms we don’t usually get at home,” added Omar.
The residential program also allows students to fully immerse themselves in the coursework—which covers a broad range of core concepts, from bonds to reaction processes to chemical equilibrium. “The classes are really rigorous,” says Chanaya. But, she adds, the more you learn, the less intimidating chemistry seems. “Mr. Wallace makes chemistry so much easier.”
Listening to Wallace’s students talk about how much they’re loving math—even calculus—the potential long-term impact of EPiC on students’ comfort level with science is clear. The students speak confidently about possible careers in a broad range of STEM fields. Chanaya wants to be a teacher or a nurse. Dakota and Prynce are both interested in engineering. And Omar is open to a broad range of careers, as long as it has to do with science: “Before, I kind of wanted to do something in an office or something. But now I know I want to do something scientifically related.”
Wallace Derricotte, an NSF GRFP awardee, become involved in EPiC in early 2015 when the administrators of the program approached him to take over for a graduate student teaching EPiC’s chemistry courses. “Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Wallace. “I’ve lived in Atlanta all my life and I relish the opportunity to give back something to the community that has given so much to me.”
The program also supports Wallace’s career goals for after the PhD. He hopes to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate college or university. “Even though the students I’m teaching are in high school, I teach the class at a college level,” says Wallace. “I’m able to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t when teaching chemistry. It’s good to get a feel for what teaching methods resonate with students and which ones don’t.”
Atasha Sutton, Instructional Lab Specialist for chemistry and an administrative lead for EPiC, praises Wallace’s approach. “Wallace is an excellent instructor, who made sure students were engaged during his lectures and had a thorough understanding of the material being taught.” Research advisor Francesco Evangelista echoes that praise, connecting the teaching opportunity to Wallace’s NSF award: “Wallace’s NSF fellowship recognizes both his excellence as a researcher and a genuine dedication to teaching and mentoring young scientists.”
Some of the demands of EPiC’s curriculum have given Wallace, who is a computational chemist, an opportunity to get outside his comfort zone and step back in to the environment of a wet lab. During a recent laboratory session with EPiC, he laughed with the students while having a brief struggle during the set-up of a demonstration on reaction kinetics. “I’m a theoretical chemist,” he reminded the students, as they laughed. His willingness to laugh at his own hiccup, however brief, is clearly part of what makes the students comfortable in the classroom and the lab. Everyone is learning.
“The opportunity with EPiC has truly been a learning experience for me,” agrees Wallace. “Every time I step into the classroom I feel sharper and more prepared that the previous class and that’s an experience I feel a lot of PhD students don’t get. The unique opportunity to design, implement, and teach your own course is a valuable skill for anyone looking to go into academia.”
Arecibo is by far the largest single dish radio telescope in the world, excluding the 1640 foot FAST in China that is still under construction. It sits inside a karst sinkhole on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Its 1000 foot dish collects a dramatic amount of radio waves. The radiation feeds into a movable dome in which a secondary dish further focuses the radiation into radio receivers. Arecibo is both a passive radio wave collector and an active radio radar. The radio waves come from various sources in deep space, such as galaxies, pulsars, and molecular clouds, and from the echoes of radar signal from the planets and asteroids in our solar system.
In the week-long camp, I was immersed in a series of intense courses talking about every aspect of radio astronomy from the fundamental theory to engineering to observation procedures to data analysis. While trying to understand so much science in such a short period of time was stressful, it was also a lot of fun to work, discuss and learn together with about a hundred fellows from around the world. We had plenty of time free for discussion after each day’s workshop. People liked to gather around the pool in the observatory, enjoy food and drink, and talk about science, as well as share fun stories with each other.
Two experiences provided during the summer school stand out. One was a hands-on observing project using either Arecibo or the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) to practice what we learned from the workshop. GBT is a NRAO facility that has a telescope that is smaller in size than Arecibo but operates at higher radio frequencies. Unfortunately, on the day I was assigned to the hands-on project, Arecibo encountered a little mechanical problem that suspended its operation . But I was able to sit in front of a computer terminal with my teammates, remotely operating GBT 1600 miles away in West Virginia. We sent off commands to point the telescope at the desired area in the sky, controlled the telescope to track the sources, and integrated signals emitted from hydrogen nuclei dropping from a higher energy state onto a lower energy state. We observed a few galaxies and were able to estimate their size and mass from the spectral line of hydrogen nuclei we collected.
The other fascinating activity was a platform tour on to the arms and dome of Arecibo. It was so scary to look down from an arm hanging in the air 300 feet above the main dish! When the tour approached the dome where the radio wave reflected from the main dish is further focused and sent into the receivers, I could see the giant antenna feed and horns closer than I could have imagined before.
Tropic thunderstorms were unpredictable on site. The rain fell before it went dark, and then the water vaporized back into the air. The atmosphere was humid after the rain, and fog rose and started to accumulate in the dish after midnight. From the control room, the dish appeared like a giant pot stewing porridge. The fog persisted in the rain forest until the finger of the sun broke the dawn.
I had been thinking about taking a photo of the telescope with the starry night as the background. But the rains and fogs every day had stopped me from doing that. Fortunately, I got my chance to take the photo I wanted during the last night of the workshop. That night we had a nice farewell banquet under the beautiful sunset and twilight. Then the sky cleared out; no clouds and no moon before midnight. I went down to the bottom of the Arecibo dish with my camera and tripod, found a spot that had an open view of the sky, and started taking photos one after another until a few hours later when I ran out my battery. By that time, the moon had risen up to the top of the sky, and clouds had accumulated. I had fully used my photography time window, and what I obtained was one astounding picture from a synthesis of about 100 single shot pictures of the telescope.
After the summer school, I took the opportunity to stay in Puerto Rico for a few days. In Old San Juan, I walked by local townhouses painted in rainbow colors through alleys covered by cobblestones. In Fajardo, I was able to kayak through a/the mangrove forest into the renowned fluorescent bio-bay, where the magic microbes in the sea water fluoresced around my kayak and paddle.
All these extraordinary experiences could not have happened without the financial support of PDS training funds. The PDS program at the Laney Graduate School at Emory provides students with the resources to embrace the excitement of travel, learning, and academic research through experiences like mine.
Disclaimer: My personal travel costs in Puerto Rico after the Single Dish Summer School were not covered by PDS.
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.