Morgan Vaughn (Dyer Group) Awarded Dean’s Teaching Fellowship

Morgan in the classroom.

Morgan Bair Vaughn (Dyer Group) has been awarded a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship for the 2017-2018 school year. The prestigious fellowship provides support to advanced students to allow them to design and teach a course as Instructor of Record while completing their dissertation. Morgan is using this opportunity to teach a section of CHEM 150: Structure and Properties. The course is the first in the core sequence of the new Chemistry Unbound curriculum and replaces “Gen Chem” or CHEM 142. CHEM 150 takes an integrated approach to teaching the chemical disciplines, giving students broad training in chemistry as the foundation of their studies. For instance, Structure and Properties incorporates aspects of Organic Chemistry, normally sequestered in its own course sequence later in the undergraduate career.

Morgan’s research in the Dyer Group focuses on enzymes via the unique method of temperature jump spectroscopy. “My research works to fill in the gaps in our knowledge to allow for the efficient development of new enzymes,” says Morgan. “A large portion of the scientific community focuses on determining the structure of enzymes and how the structure impacts function. While this work is enormously important, it doesn’t tell the full story. One major aspect that is often overlooked when examining structure-function relationships is that enzymes are dynamic molecules. This means that they physically move, bend, wiggle, and change shape during catalysis.”

Read more about Morgan’s research in her blog post, “A Unique Method for Studying Enzymes.”

Congratulations, Morgan!

Emory Report: Chemistry synthesizes radical overhaul of undergraduate curriculum

The Emory Report features a story on chemistry’s new undergraduate curriculum, Chemistry Unbound.

For the science dedicated to studying how properties interact and change, chemistry has been static for decades in how it is taught.

That changes this fall, as Emory College of Arts & Sciences positions itself as a leader in teaching undergraduates the “central science” that links biology, physics and more with a revamp of its entire undergraduate chemistry curriculum.

While some colleges have changed individual classes, Emory is the first major research university to completely overhaul how it teaches chemistry, from introductory courses to capstone senior seminars

Read the entire article at the Emory Report.

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.


Doug Mulford’s Scientific Writing Course Featured in the Dooley Report

Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.
Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.

Doug Mulford‘s freshman seminar is featured in this week’s Dooley Report, the weekly ebulletin sent to all Emory students. From the article:

“If you have a better understanding of the history of knowledge, you realize the things we think are true now are going to change, and you have to be open to that new learning,” says Douglas Mulford, senior lecturer of chemistry and the director of undergraduate studies for Emory’s chemistry department.

Mulford’s first-year seminar, “How Do We Know That: 2,500 years of Great Science Writing,” aims to help students develop those skills by delving into scientific claims of the past and present as well as the ethics that go with scientific advancement.

Part science literature and part critical thinking, the course is one of several first-year courses offered under Emory’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), “The Nature of Evidence: How Do You Know?”

Read the full story online at the Dooley Report.

Research Spotlight: Analytical Chemistry Out of the Lab and Into the WaterHub

Students in their laboratory safety gear outside the WaterHub.
Students in their laboratory safety gear outside the WaterHub.

By: Laura Briggs (EC ’19)

Sometimes, being in an academic lab setting can feel a bit pointless. Instructors and TAs are there to help you every step of the way, procedures are laid out for you step-by-step, and everyone pretty much knows what the “right” result should be. I understand that this method helps you learn techniques and reinforce concepts, but it definitely isn’t what I’ve experienced in a real research setting.

Dr. Jeremy Weaver’s analytical chemistry lab has been a fun and fulfilling change of scenery from step-by-step lab work. Our class visited the WaterHub with sample collection bottles and got a hands-on look at the real science that goes on there (I talk more about the WaterHub experience here). Then, we took the samples back into the lab to do some real research.

Dr. Weaver famously says that analytical chemistry is the class where data accuracy and precision matter the most. But for the WaterHub project, he took a more open-ended approach. He didn’t give us a procedure to follow; instead, we spent a week scouring the Internet and the scientific literature to figure out what to do. And when we asked if a certain procedure would work, Dr. Weaver encouraged us to go for it, give it a shot, and see what happened.

Using the techniques we learned in lab, including gas chromatography, titrations, and spectrophotometry, we determined (somewhat successfully) the phosphate and aluminum concentrations of the water, along with “water hardness” – a fancy term for the concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and a few other ions in a water sample. These are values that water quality testers would measure during a routine check of water quality.

Of course, without a surefire procedure to follow, it took a couple of tries to work out the kinks. My portion of the project was to determine the phosphate concentration of the WaterHub samples using UV/Vis spectrometry. The concept behind this technique is simple – you add an agent to your sample that creates a color change, and the degree to which the color appears corresponds to the concentration of the sample. The first time I added my coloring agent to each sample, absolutely nothing happened – even when I knew that there was a ton of phosphate in the sample!

The process of research, as we learned, is full of troubleshooting and setbacks. But eventually, I found the amount of phosphate in the WaterHub water! Boy, did I feel accomplished because I found the procedure and performed the experiments myself. Even in an academic lab setting, it is possible to conduct real research, answer real questions, and engage with the Emory community on a larger level. Dr. Weaver’s WaterHub project brought the esoteric techniques of quantitative analytical chemistry and gave them new life through a real-life application.

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Laura BriggsLaura Briggs is a sophomore majoring in chemistry and dance. Laura is a Woodruff Scholar and the Vice President of the Emory Swing Dance Club. She is also a member of the Emory Dance Company and hosts a weekly, science-themed radio show. Laura is a research assistant in the Weinert lab, where she studies really cool bacteria that attack potatoes. Laura plans to pursue either a Ph.D. in biochemistry or a master’s in science writing.

To learn more about the WaterHub, check out this link from Campus Services!

Emory Hosts Merck Lecture Series

Merck LecturesIn 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
Rahway, NJ

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
Michael Shevlin
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.



Meet Leah Williams, HHMI Curriculum, Development Postdoc

Leah Williams. Photo provided by Leah Williams.
Leah Williams. Photo provided by Leah Williams.

Leah Williams came to Emory last summer at the same time that students, staff, and faculty were moving into the new Atwood Addition. Her arrival in the midst of that process seems fitting—as an HHMI Curriculum Development Postdoc, Leah is a part of the team working to re-envision the undergraduate chemistry curriculum at Emory.

The curriculum itself is designed, in part, to suit the unique teaching opportunities presented by the new addition. “Everything that we’re working on has been designed with the ATOMIC (Advancing the Teaching Of Matter through Innovation and Collaboration) room in mind,” says Leah. “A lot of the materials we’re creating are meant to be done in groups, they’re meant to be interactive. Taking advantage of that space, taking advantage of the round tables, the Learning Catalytics system (since we have screens everywhere), the dry erase boards and tables so they can share all their information.”

Before coming to Emory, Leah received her PhD in chemical education from Michigan State University. Her research focused on evidence-based methods for teaching students about the relationship between structure and properties. “It’s one of the bigger ideas of chemistry that the structure of a compound, of a substance determines the properties that you experience on the macroscopic level. It’s hard [for students] because it’s a very big jump from structure to properties and there is a lot you need to know in-between. “

At MSU, she assisted her advisor, Dr. Melanie M. Cooper, with the implementation of a revised general chemistry course called CLUE:  Chemistry, Life, the Universe, and Everything. The changes were modeled on revisions made to general chemistry coursework at Clemson University. Leah actually began her PhD at Clemson, moving to MSU with her advisor when the opportunity arose to bring the curriculum revisions undertaken at Clemson to a new school.

Her experiences at MSU and Clemson inform Leah’s work at Emory. “Leah brings a wealth of expertise to our reform efforts,” says Tracy McGill. “Her experience with the NSF-sponsored CLUE curriculum, assessment, and design of learning activities has been invaluable to the Emory Chemistry department.  She just finished her first year in the ATOMIC room and her insights about student learning have informed the changes we have already made in planning for the fall of 2016.  It is a great pleasure to work with a colleague with such dedication and enthusiasm to our department and especially our students.”

Leah notes that the curriculum development underway at Emory has a key difference from her previous experiences. “It was just gen chem,” she explains, speaking of Clemson and MSU. “Here, we’re working on the whole curriculum. There are very few schools that have attempted this.”

That process presents unique challenges. For one thing, there aren’t many examples to draw on. For departments hoping to complete evidence-based curriculum overhauls in the future, Emory’s story will be part of the evidence—what works and what doesn’t.

The curriculum redesign started with a focus on big ideas—the themes tying together different courses throughout a student’s career. The approach allowed everyone to think big, but it was hard to zoom in on the details of individual courses. “Now,” says Leah, “we’ve flipped our approach and we’re working the other way.” The team is focusing on individual lessons and learning approaches, building the curriculum piece by piece. “Our goal is to give people a more concrete idea of what the courses are actually about. I think before it was very abstract and it’s hard to get people on board when they can’t envision themselves teaching that class because they’re not sure what’s in that class. Now, we’re working on more detail, but that takes time.”

Although the process is ongoing, undergraduate chemistry students are already seeing the influence of the curriculum redesign in the classroom as members of the faculty test activities from the under-development curriculum in the classroom. Leah worked with instructor Michael Reddish to test a version of the advanced physical chemistry lab designed to help students produce publishable research results. This Fall, the curriculum team will pilot an activity on potential energy and attractive forces that will have students in the ATOMIC room up on their feet: “The students struggle a lot understanding how potential energy is related to the attractive and repulsive forces between charged particles. So, we developed an activity where they’re going to run around and they’re going to have charges…this person is going to be a plus charge and this person will be a minus and we’re going to talk about what happens when they come together or they are further apart.”

The curriculum redesign centers on this kind of active engagement. Leah says that college students are “at the point where they can understand more complex ideas, deeper chemistry concepts, and they’re at that transition where they’re starting to take more responsibility for their own education and willing to put in the work to learn the hard stuff.” When she moves on from Emory, Leah hopes to continue teaching at the college level. “I like that transition, setting them off for harder chemistry studies as they go on.”

Further Reading

Cooper, Melanie M., Leah M. Corley, and Sonia M. Underwood. “An investigation of college chemistry students’ understanding of structure–property relationships.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 50.6 (2013): 699-721.

Cooper, Melanie M., Leah C. Williams, and Sonia M. Underwood. “Student understanding of intermolecular forces: A multimodal study.” Journal of Chemical Education 92.8 (2015): 1288-1298.

Williams, Leah C., et al. “Are noncovalent interactions an achilles heel in chemistry education? A comparison of instructional approaches.” Journal of Chemical Education 92.12 (2015): 1979-1987.

Chemistry Course “How Do We Know That? 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing” Featured by Emory News

Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.
Doug Mulford teaching chemistry in the new Atwood chemistry building. Photo by David Johnson for Univ. Marketing.

Doug Mulford‘s Fall 2016 course, “How Do We Know That? 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing”, has been featured by Emory News as a “critical” course offering a fresh perspective on high profile issues. From the article:

How Do We Know That? 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing

Instructor: Douglas Mulford, senior lecturer, Chemistry

Cool factor: What did Darwin actually say? Einstein? Mendel? Should we clone humans? Can chocolate cause weight loss? What is the placebo effect anyway and why do I care? Was Galileo just a really big nerd? (Yes!) The course will look at how humans learn by looking at the original words of scientists throughout history. Occasional demonstrations, explosions and liquid nitrogen ice cream provided.

Course description: This is not a science class but scientific learning will be the framework for this study. This discussion-based first-year seminar will focus on how humans have learned knowledge throughout the history. Discourse will examine humans’ ways of discovery by looking at 2,500 years of great science writing to discover how science is done and how human knowledge as a species grows.

Department and school: Chemistry in Emory College

[Full Article]

Chemists from Emory and Oxford Attend Biennial Conference on Chemical Education

Emory and Oxford faculty at the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE). Photo by Tracy McGill.
Emory and Oxford faculty at the Biennial Conference in Chemical Education (BCCE). Photo by Tracy McGill.

A group of Emory University and Oxford College chemistry faculty and postdoctoral fellows attended the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education from July 31 toAugust 4 at the University of Northern Colorado. Brenda Harmon and Nichole Powell chaired a symposium, Karl Hagen and Tracy McGill presented oral papers, and Doug Mulford gave a poster presentation, establishing Emory as a key member of the chemical educational community.  This was a great opportunity to learn about the latest innovations and implementations of chemistry curriculum, pedagogical methods, technology in the classroom, and undergraduate laboratory design.  Additionally, it was a unique time for Emory and Oxford faculty to learn more about their respective departments and to engage in conversations about how best to support our students in both colleges.

Wallace Derricotte’s EPiC Summer

EPiC students in the classroom, instructor Wallace Derricotte at the board. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
EPiC students in the classroom, instructor Wallace Derricotte at the board. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

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 students travel between the classroom and the lab. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
EPiC students travel between the classroom and the lab. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

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.

EPiC participants (from l-r) Chanaya, Dakota, Omar, and Prynce. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
EPiC participants (from l-r) Chanaya, Dakota, Omar, and Prynce. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

“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.”

Students work in small groups to solve problems on the chalkboard--with Wallace's help (far right). Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
Students work in small groups to solve problems on the chalkboard–with Wallace’s help (far right). Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

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.”

EPiC campers observe an experiment in the lab. Students move between classroom and bench work, giving them an opportunity to directly apply classroom concepts through lab experiences.
EPiC campers observe an experiment in the lab. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

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.”

The experiment comes together! Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
The experiment comes together! Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

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.”