Chemistry major Michelle Stofberg (EC ’17) is featured in a new book from the American Chemical Society, The Power and Promise of Early Research from the ACS Symposium Series. Michelle’s story about her first experiences in the lab appears in the chapter “Lab Tales: Personal Stories of Early Researchers.” Michelle describes her first encounters with laboratory research at Emory in her own words, including Introductory Chemistry II with Dr. Nichole Powell at Emory’s Oxford College and laboratory work with Brenda Harmon. Currently, Michelle is an undergraduate researcher in the Liebeskind Lab. Michelle was also a summer SURE researcher at Emory.
An excerpt from “Lab Tales”:
Sharing my research experiences with others helped me appreciate just how extraordinary these research opportunities were and reflect on how much I have learnt. As I explained before, a researcher studies unknowns. This task seemed rather daunting to me at first; however, I soon realized that there was something spectacular about delving into the unfamiliar. I saw the beauty of challenging the unknown and the joy of discovery. Of course, I do not mean discovery as a stagnant, completed act, but as a fluid, ongoing process. In other words, research is wonderful for it is a challenging process of understanding and learning. It challenges you to face your weaknesses and bolster your strengths; it forces you to consider the world through a different, inquisitive lens; it helps you realize your passions; and it lets you grow as a student and as an individual.
Early mentoring experiences solidified Sunidhi Ramesh’s desire to pursue a career in medicine.
“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was four,” she explains. That was the age when she started accompanying her favorite uncle on visits to his medical practice in a small, rural village in India. Her uncle’s clinic “was so different from any clinic or hospital that you would see here. It was quiet, and he was often the only person working there.” In that small space, she saw her uncle having a big impact.
“He used to give out free medicine. If he had patients who were homeless, he wouldn’t charge them. It was a very humbling process. He would be tired at the end of the day, but he’d be happy. I noticed that really quickly.”
Sunidhi’s interest in medicine eventually led her to the strong STEM programs at Emory. As a first year student, she struggled with time management—understandable considering she was involved in an array of activities, from writing for The Wheel to performing on a Bollywood dance team. Attending Chem Mentor tutoring sessions helped her to slow down and learn to budget her time.
“Chem Mentors kind of forced me to sit down and say, ‘Okay, these two hours are just for chemistry problems.’ I could figure out what I was comfortable with and what I wasn’t comfortable with and study from there. It gave me a baseline,” says Sunidhi.
Now, Sunidhi—a double major in Neuroscience and Sociology—is a Chem Mentor, helping other students to enhance their experience in Chem 141 and 142.
Chem Mentors are upper level students who provide weekly tutoring sessions to students enrolled in “Gen Chem.” Students who apply to be mentors must have completed Gen Chem classes at Emory with a grade of A- or better and are required to submit a reference from an Emory professor. Selected students undergo training and are also required to attend Gen Chem class sessions—helping to refresh their content knowledge and allowing them to serve as an in-class resource to students taking the class for the first time.
The tutoring sessions are the heart of the program, giving Chem Mentors responsibility for their peers’ learning. Mentors must develop their own approach to the material and lead sessions independently. Sunidhi says that one of the challenges is finding ways to help students who have different levels of comfort with the material under review. She’s learned not to make assumptions about what students already know; when students do show mastery, she will often keep them engaged by asking them to teach the material to others who are struggling. Her own experience with Chem Mentors has showed her that teaching material can help to solidify complex concepts even for students who have a firm grasp on course content.
“You benefit from teaching someone and learning how to explain the problem and someone else benefits from hearing it from another person,” she says.
The challenges from the program have given her a new respect for the professors who deal with these kinds of issues every day. “I’m a lot more sympathetic with professors now!”
At the same time, Sunidhi and her fellow Chem Mentors are able to use their role to help other students feel more comfortable with their professors. “Sometimes students aren’t as comfortable going to [the faculty] with questions. During our sessions, they come to us and we try to refer them to their professors to make them more comfortable with going to office hours; first years, especially, are very anxious. They think they can’t go to office hours unless they have a good question to ask.”
Director of Undergraduate Studies Dr. Doug Mulford praises Sunidhi’s commitment. “Sunidhi has been a model mentor helping countless students understand the material in Chemistry 141 and 142. She relates to them as one who has been there herself.” Dr. Tracy McGill adds: “The Chem Mentors themselves are what make the program so outstanding. Having a peer who has succeeded in the course earlier and can model tenacity, patience, and a methodical approach to breaking down a complex problem is invaluable to our students’ success.”
Sunidhi’s commitment to mentoring extends beyond chemistry. She mentors high school students through Emory Pipeline, a program that seeks to build awareness of STEM careers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and she has also served as an Orientation Leader twice. “I think it’s a rewarding experience to be a mentor in general,” she says. “You get to see things from a different perspective.”
With Chem Mentors, Sunidhi is often pleasantly surprised by what she has retained from Gen Chem. “Sometimes I’m surprised that I still remember how to do the problem! I think those kinds of surprises combined with the reward of having to teach a class and seeing students have that ‘a-ha’ moment where they realize how a concept works—those are the rewards that line up and make it a good program.”
Maybe some of Sunidhi’s drive to mentor others comes from her own experience finding her way. “We kind of had to Guinea pig our way through everything,” she says, describing the way that she and her family have approached her goal of being a doctor. Both of her parents are immigrants from India and she is the oldest child, trying to forge a path through a very different educational system. As she’s progressed—and continued to teach others—that path has become more and more clear.
“I don’t know anything else I can do,” she says. “Medicine is what I love.”
Interested in being a ChemMentor? Applications for the 2016-2017 school year will be accepted this coming Spring. Students who have earned an A or A- in their chemistry courses are eligible to apply. Selected mentors are required to enroll in Chem 392R, the Chem Mentor training course. Dr. Tracy McGill says: “Chem Mentors is an exciting opportunity for undergraduate students to develop their leadership skills, work with their peers, deepen their understanding of chemistry concepts, and build relationships with faculty mentors.” Contact Dr. McGill or Dr. Mulford with questions.
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.
Emory’s American Chemical Society-affiliated undergraduate club, ChEmory, has been recognized as a Green Chemistry Student Chapter for the third year running. The award provides national recognition for ACS student chapters who have shown outstanding commitment to incorporating green chemistry into their annual activities. The judges praised ChEmory for their work drawing connections between traditional chemistry demonstrations and green chemistry ideas like pollution prevention and sustainable product design.
ChEmory also received an honorable mention for ACS Chapter-at-Large, placing them in the top fifteen percent of chapters across the country.
ChEmory kicked off the year with their first general body meeting on September 7th. ChEmory’s next event will be a coffee talk with Dr. Don Batisky, the Executive Director of Emory’s Pre-Health Mentoring Office taking place TODAY, Wednesday, September 21st at 5:30pm in Atwood 316. ChEmory members are invited to share coffee and conversation about approaching the pre-medical track through chemistry.
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.
Chemistry staff were recognized for service milestones at yesterday’s Emory College of Arts and Sciences Service Awards held in the Science Commons Atrium. The awards were presented by interim Dean Michael Elliot. Bruster’s ice cream was served and each milestone awardee received an Emory blanket and a certificate in recognition of their years of service.
Yimin Wang (5 years)
Huanyu Zhao (5 years)
Stephenie Thioubou (10 years)
Demetra Jackson (15 years; Dean’s Office)
Bing Wang (15 years)
Joonbum Park (20 years)
The event also offered ECAS staff an opportunity to thank Dean Robin Forman for his service before he leaves for a new position at Tulane.
Chemistry major Julia Gensheimer (EC ’19) won the 2016 American Chemical Society t-shirt design contest! Julia’s t-shirt will be produced and sold at the upcoming ACS national meeting in Philadelphia. Julia’s design was selected as one of six finalists and the winning design was chosen via online voting. Asked how she came up with her winning design, Julia said: “When the contest began, the chemical structures and lab techniques from a year of studying organic chemistry were fresh in my mind. Using ChemDraw, I created a simple design that I thought best represented the subject. It is exciting to share my love of chemistry with others through this t-shirt design and I am very thankful for the support!”
“I got the chance to see more countries in these five months than Fluorine has electrons”
By: Juan D. Cisneros (Emory College of Arts and Sciences)
Entering my penultimate year in the College, I signed up to spend a semester in Spain through Emory’s Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA). Choosing to major in both chemistry and Spanish at Emory has given me the opportunity to develop two vastly different ways of understanding and appreciating the world around me. My original thoughts on a semester abroad were that it would be spent adjusting to cultural differences and touring historical monuments – learning in a pleasant yet unscientific manner. However, when I spoke to former CIPA enrollees, they detailed their experiences in a fashion strikingly similar to that of a young researcher presenting their work at a conference for the first time. Adjusting to, and incorporating yourself within an entirely new academic setting seemed not only daunting, but dependent on the spread of skills and applied knowledge. Deciphering a restaurant menu would be one thing, but integrating myself within an academic community and excelling among newfound peers would be another. It would be a chance to apply what I’ve learned in my language and culture courses in an analytical fashion. Their enthusiasm resonated with me and so my decision was made. I landed in Madrid the first week of 2016.
During my five month stay, I was enrolled at the Universidad de Salamanca, just two hours west of Madrid. Founded in 1218, it is the oldest standing Spanish university and overflows with jaw-dropping buildings and a rich and royal history. Most of my classes were held in the Palacio de Anaya, a neoclassical palace just steps away from the Cathedral (pictured above). Whether on foot or on my motorcycle, I always enjoyed the to and from commute to class. It did take some time to acclimate to the very different Spanish undergraduate routine – classes splattered throughout the day from 09:00 and 22:00.
In one of my courses within the Department of Philology, titled Scientific Research Writing, I developed a cross cultural analysis paper on Green Chemistry over the length of my stay. The idea originated when I had to drop the course Bromatología: Analytical Chemistry in Food Processing due to a conflict in my mandatory course schedule and longed for some basic science learning. The paper itself was partly informed by my research on the current standards of research labs in certain European and South American countries and their efforts towards more sustainable chemistry. The analysis was based on a survey I developed of Principal Investigators and post-docs from these labs as well as current literature. Writing science in another language proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated, but with the help of my tutor and the faculty within the Department of Chemical Engineering and Philology at USAL, I was able to complete my work and gain valuable insight on how the perception of sustainable chemistry and engineering in foreign countries is formed and processed. One surprising difference is how some European nations that are not part of the EU have less interest in funding these types of labs and how scarce undergraduate involvement in research is across Europe compared to in the U.S.
In addition to my coursework, I worked remotely for the National Hansen’s Disease Program TravelWell Clinic at Emory Midtown Hospital. My job was to organize data flowing in from a recent pilot on a developing project involving associated disability variables of Mycobacterium leprae. I first got involved in this project during the fall semester but it was not until I was in Spain that the vital pieces of data began to emerge. With bi-monthly Skype calls and some dedicated research time, I was able to move the project along and submit an abstract to the 2016 American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene National Conference for an oral presentation, titled “Preventing Mycobacterium leprae – associated disability: Identifying social and clinical factors associated with nerve damage in an endemic area of Brazil.”
When I wasn’t working on these aforementioned responsibilities – often from my unofficial office in my favorite Café-bar – I got the chance to see more countries in these five months than Fluorine has electrons. I could fill 6.0221409×1023 posts with all the pictures and videos I took but some of the highlights were touring the Spanish countryside on a motorcycle, hiking Portuguese mountains, cliff-diving in Majorca, running a half marathon through the streets of Athens, and doing a lap on the world famous and adrenaline-inducing Nürburgring. I am very grateful for my study abroad experience and am excited to be back home, bringing with me a broader understanding of how sustainable chemistry, and science in general, is viewed in foreign cultures as well as treasured memories. I am eager to be back in lab this summer as a visiting scholar in the lab of Professor Dan Mindiola at the University of Pennsylvania.
Without a data plan or service to access a map, and with street signs posted on obscure buildings rather than poles, roaming around Rome turned a “15 minute walk” to our hotel into an hour of circling the same street over and over again. “Well, this is going to be difficult,” I thought as I entered my hotel room, passing out from jet lag. I sincerely hoped I wouldn’t continue to feel as lost and disoriented as I did on that first day.
Thankfully, most of the study abroad experience in Italy went better than my first hour in Rome. “Getting lost” turned into culturally-motivated wandering—from the Coliseum to the Vatican Museum to the 551 steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. My personal favorite experience was climbing the Basilica to see the view of Rome’s skyline. But it wasn’t solely a race to the top – climbing the dome was special for what you see on the way. At about 200 steps, you get a birds-eye view into the Basilica. Pilgrims travel thousands of miles to see the work of artists like Michelangelo and the crypts of Paul and Peter. The whole climb, from start to finish, was a privilege.
Studying chemistry in Italy gave me a behind-the-scenes view of some of what goes into restoring and protecting the kind of art that I admired in the Basilica . One thing we studied in particular was the use of lasers to restore art and architecture. I have always thought of art as purely a humanities discipline. However, we learned that while artists are the ones to make beauty, scientists are needed to help preserve it. Every time a piece of art needs to be restored, it requires an entire team of art and science experts. Part of their goal is to make the smallest amount of alterations possible while restoring a piece. As a chemistry and creative writing double major, this changed my perception that my two fields of study are mutually exclusive. Rather, they can co-exist together to form the best possible product. This also happens in developing makeup, making art supplies, and authenticating pieces of art.
We arrived in Siena, a city in Tuscany on May 27, 2016. One of my favorite things about Siena was the massive hills. As a cross country runner, I found no shortage of places to run because of the hills, which increase the difficulty of my training. The central square, El Piazza Del Campo, is the heart of the city with tourists and native residents alike picnicking at every hour of the day. El Piazza houses a biannual historical race known as the Palio di Siena. This is a horse race with 10 jockeys, each representing a contrada, or district, of the city. A victory brings tremendous pride and celebration to a contrada. After six weeks of living in Siena, we ended our program by attending this raucous event alongside nearly 50,000 other spectators. Of course, as an Emory student-athlete, I support the Eagle contrada.
The only complaint I have about the Summer in Siena program is that it goes by too fast. It feels like just a second ago that I was feeling lost and nervous in Rome. I initially went on this trip just to study chemistry, but I’ve learned so much more about art, culture, and collaboration between the arts and sciences on the way. When I get home, I plan to try to convince my mom that we should take a trip to Italy as a family–that’s the only way I can truly show them how great this experience was.
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.”