Alumni Spotlight: Kristoffer Leon

Kristoffer Leon (second right) pictured with classmates during the UCSF White Coat ceremony for first year medical students. Photo provided by Kristoffer Leon.
Kristoffer Leon (second from right) pictured with classmates during the UCSF White Coat ceremony for first year medical students. Photo provided by Kristoffer Leon.

When asked to reflect on his chemistry major, Kristoffer Leon says: “I love my chemistry major because it was a challenging and rigorous pursuit of study that led to a lot of great connections with my professors, especially [Jose] Soria, [Emily] Weinert, [Jeremy] Weaver, and [Doug] Mulford. Also, it helped shape my path for my graduate studies.”

Kris (EC ’15) was an active participant in outreach and research during his time at Emory. As Vice President of ChEmory, Emory’s undergraduate chemistry club, he participated in Science Olympiad, National Chemistry Week, the Atlanta Science Festival, and science outreach to local schools. “[Kris’s] success stems from a unique devotion to learning while inside the classroom and an unparalleled example of leadership outside the classroom by mentoring students in all aspects of science and mathematics,” says Jose Soria. “Kristoffer is one of the most accomplished students I have ever met in my teaching career at Emory College. Chemistry played a key role in Kristoffer’s tenure while at Emory by fueling his imagination and passion for knowledge.”

Speaking of his research accomplishments, Emily Weinert echoes that praise: “Kristoffer is fantastic scientist – his intelligence and creativity were obvious both in class and in his honors thesis research. It was a real pleasure to work with him to develop ideas for his bioorganic chemistry grant proposal and then see the progress he made on his project to identify glycosyltransferases in the Cummings lab.” Kris’s honors thesis, “Cloning, expression and characterization of a β1,4-GalNAcTransferase from Schistosoma mansoni,” will be available from Emory’s online thesis library in 2017.

Now, Kris is an MD/PhD candidate at the University of California, San Francisco. Amidst his busy first year of classes, Kris has already become involved with the local community, volunteering with a homeless clinic in the area.

Many students come to Emory wanting to know if the chemistry major is the right choice to prepare them for a career in medicine.  Kris feels that the chemistry major has been excellent training for the rigorous medical school curriculum. “The knowledge I gained from my major helps a great deal in learning medicine, because learning about drugs and the functions of the human body is mostly chemistry and biochemistry.”


ChEmory Students Reflect on the Recent American Chemical Society Meeting in Denver, Colorado

Members of chemistry’s ACS-award winning chemistry club, ChEmory, attended the ACS Meeting in Denver Colorado last month. The impressions, compiled by Kristoffer Leon, are shared below:

Juan Cisneros

Attending my first ever ACS national meeting was a rewarding and inspiring experience. Over the three days I spent in Denver I was able to attend several interesting talks, check out developing technologies for bench work and connect with people who share the same passions. The Kavli Series of talks proved the most interesting but the best was Dr. Paul Bryan’s on the Four Horsemen of the Advanced Biofuels Apocalypse – a realistic (pessimistic) view on the many barriers our development of biofuel dependence faces. Exploring the town proved to be fun as we tried some interesting food choices in between talks that were scattered across the city among the different hotels. At the chapter symposium we were also able to meet other ACS clubs and learn from each other – even meeting some nearby clubs such as the Georgia College chapter. I returned to Atlanta with many great memories and enthusiastic about my career as a chemist.

Katie Woolard        

The Denver ACS National Meeting was my third national meeting, and by far my favorite. I was able to talk with chemists in many different fields, including organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and environmental chemistry, as well as get more information about the idea of green chemistry. As an undergrad, I spent most of my time going to different plenary talks, many on environmental chemistry and drug development, but I also took advantage of the graduate school fair to look at options for grad school and other professional schools after graduation. The undergraduate poster session helped give me an idea of what poster sessions were like and helped prepare me for making my own poster, which I will be presenting later this semester at Emory. The national meetings are always inspiring and help keep me excited about chemistry.

Shruti Gupta

Because of my ability to attend ACS Denver 2015, I was able to present my research under Dr. Liotta to all the great chemists around America and even outside of America. I got great feedback on how to pursue my project, what I should do next, what I should focus on, etc. and I got to hear from chemistry legends who are revamping the way we view our society. This year’s theme was the chemistry of natural resources, and by going to this event, I got to learn about the true future of the official chemical society’s approach to dealing with the natural resource crisis, something that I would’ve otherwise never been able to be at the forefront of knowing on a deeper level. Apart from being able to present my research and learning so much about chemistry, this trip was an amazing opportunity to go to Denver and explore a different city with intellectuals all around to escape from traditional means of learning. It is definitely a weekend I will never forget and I am grateful to have had that opportunity through ChEmory.

Roger Tieu

Having the opportunity to present research and being able to network with individuals in your field is always exciting. After giving my talk and talking to graduate students and research coordinators, I was encouraged to contact these individuals who would be interested in taking me on in their university programs. Aside from presenting research, I was able to attend many fascinating talks presented by researchers at the forefront of chemistry research. Over the course of attending all these talks, I grew to become interested in glycochemistry and was able to talk to these researchers and ask them how I could become involved in projects after I graduate and enter research programs. Research aside, I had the opportunity to experience Denver by checking out the local restaurants as well as comedy shows. I also was able to get to know other students from Emory who were attending this conference. Overall, I had a phenomenal time in Denver at the ACS conference and would highly encourage students to take the time to fully explore what these ACS conferences have to offer.

Vincent Vartabedian

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to the American Chemical Society’s national convention in Denver, Colorado to present a chemical education poster. Over the past few years, I have served as an organic chemistry laboratory teaching assistant, working closely with Dr. Jose Soria to ensure that students learned experimental and analytical techniques in a safe environment. Our lab course, however, is different from typical introductory organic chemistry laboratory courses in that it aims to mimic a more realistic chemical research experience. For example, we encourage students to think independently, allowing them to deviate from the normally set-in-stone protocols found in typical courses. We also teach them how to interpret results of various analytical techniques.

Students nearing the end of their second semester in this organic chemistry laboratory course were divided into groups of four. In each group, one member was designated to be the undergraduate student, one the graduate student, one the post-doctoral fellow, and one the Principle Investigator. The undergraduate student was to complete a NaBH4 reduction. The graduate student was to complete the NaBH4 reduction with a chiral auxiliary (L-Tartaric acid) shown. The post-doctoral fellow was to complete the baker’s yeast reduction reaction. The PI assisted with analysis, determined what conclusions to report, and proposed a method for analyzing the enantio-selectivity of each reaction. All students were asked to provide reaction mechanisms, and collaboration within each group was encouraged. In order to make sure students only collaborated within their group, the assessment was set up as a competition, with the top group earning bonus points.

Prior to conducting their experiments, students were given protocols, but also were taught how to find relevant primary literature using Sci-finder; in particular, they were encouraged to find experimental techniques for NaBH4 reduction of ketones, enantioselective reduction of ketones via the use of chiral auxiliaries and other biochemical methods, and determination of enantio-selectivity.

Also, throughout the semester, students were exposed to thin-layer chromatography, column chromatography for purification, infra-red spectrometry for product analysis, and NMR for product analysis.

During experimentation, teaching assistants were available to assist with instrumentation, reaction set-up, and as a source of reagents. Because this was an assessment, they were not allowed to help with data interpretation, and students were to approach teaching assistants with questions.

Presenting this work was exciting, as my poster attracted the attention of multiple professors, one of which requested Dr. Soria’s email address so that he could correspond with him about implementing this style of assessment in his course.

In addition to the poster presentation, the ACS convention gave me a great opportunity to learn more about a wide variety of chemical fields. For example, I attended talks about applied bio-chemistry, natural products chemistry, and chemistry relating to the immune system. Through these talks, I had multiple networking opportunities. The most exciting of which, for me, was the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jim Paulson, the president of The Scripps Research Institute, the best research institute in the United States of America.

Overall, my trip to the ACS’s natural convention was productive and enjoyable, and I am grateful for the opportunity to attend.

Chemistry and the Atlanta Science Festival

Undergraduate Chris Hernandez. Photo by Emory Photo/Video.
Undergraduate Chris Hernandez. Photo by Emory Photo/Video.

ChEmory, Emory’s undergraduate ACS club, presented demos at the 2014 Atlanta Science Festival. The demos were the featured entertainment during intermission of the “Science at Emory: The Lab Changing the World” even. At the same event, Susanna Widicus Weaver gave a public talk titled “Chemical Complexity in the Universe” to an audience of over 200. Over 40 audience members visited the department for lab tours following the event. Thanks to event organizers Ilya Nemenman (Physics), David Lynn, Simon Blakey, and graduate student Darcie Cook.

ChEmory demos were again featured at the Exploration Expo held downtown at the Georgia World Congress Center on the last day of the festival. Chemistry undergraduate Chris Hernandez was featured in an Emory Report article about the demos. Jeremy Weaver was featured in a WSB-TV video advertising the festival.

Emory Department of Chemistry graduate student Brandon Greene organized the popular “Science of Beer” event during the Atlanta Science Festival. The event sold out within a day of tickets being made available online, although Pi Alpha Chemical Society made additional tickets available to our graduate students at no charge. The event featured talks about the chemistry of beer and yeast by speakers including Prof. Emily WeinertMonday Night Brewing Company provided three special beers for attendees that helped to illustrate the concepts described in the talks.

ChEmory Receives Outstanding Chapter Award

Emory’s undergraduate chemistry club, ChEmory, was awarded the “Outstanding Chapter Award” by the American Chemical Society (ACS) for its 2012-2013 activities. This places Emory’s chapter in the top most category of student ACS chapters across the country. Congratulations, ChEmory!