First Person: From Atwood to Abroad

“I got the chance to see more countries in these five months than Fluorine has electrons”

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View of the Cathedral from a Christian monastery’s garden in the heart of Salamanca. Photo by Juan Cisneros.
View of the Cathedral from a Christian monastery’s garden in the heart of Salamanca. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

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.

My faithful two wheeled companion on many weekend adventures. Photo by Juan Cisneros.
My faithful two wheeled companion on many weekend adventures. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

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.”

Tasting hydro-alcoholic solutions in Porto, Portugal. Photo by Juan Cisneros.
Tasting hydro-alcoholic solutions in Porto, Portugal. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

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.

Student Spotlight: Ryan Fan Reflects on his “Summer in Siena”

From L to R, Alexis Kosiak, Ryan Fan, and Alex Nazzari visting the lab of Gianluca Giorgi, a collaborator of Emory chemist Vince Conticello, at the University of Siena.
From L to R, Alexis Kosiak, Ryan Fan, and Alex Nazzari visting the lab of Gianluca Giorgi, a collaborator of Emory chemist Vince Conticello, at the University of Siena.

“Sprawling in Siena”

By: Ryan Fan (Emory College)

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.

Interested in applying to for the “Summer in Siena” program? Details are available on the Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA) website.

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.”


A Look Inside the ATOMIC Classroom

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.

The ATOMIC classroom is the 99-seat teaching space adjacent to the new Science Commons in Atwood Hall. The ATOMIC classroom is “Advancing the Teaching of Matter in Chemistry” through interactive classroom experiences. Students can view presentations on 360 degree screens or work out problems on the whiteboard walls and tables. Emory photographer David Johnson stopped by a few weeks ago to catch this unique classroom in action.

For more about the ATOMIC classroom, check out this Emory Wheel article from 2015.

2016 Chemistry Undergraduate Award Winners

Undergraduates pose with the ACS "Mole" during the 2016 ACS Meeting
Undergraduates pose with the ACS “Mole” during the 2016 ACS Meeting. Photo by Doug Mulford.

Chemistry celebrated the research accomplishments of our undergraduates during Undergraduate Research Week at Emory. On Friday, April 22nd, we held a poster session and awards ceremony in the Science Commons. The poster session was judged by graduate students Brooke Andrews, Wallace Derricotte, Monica Kiewit, Rachel Kozlowski, Michelle Leidy, Rolando Rengifo, Samantha Summer, and Christian Wallen. The following students were recognized with awards:

Outstanding Poster Presentation

Houston Smith   (1st Prize)

Samuel Wilder

Alyssa Pollard

Catherine Urbano

Recipient of the Outstanding Chemistry Major

Mariko Morimoto

Excellence in Undergraduate Research

Casey Leigh Anthony

Excellence in Undergraduate Research

Olivia Mangat Dhaliwal

2016 Outstanding Analytical Chemistry Student

Shelly Saini

2016 Outstanding Physical Chemistry Student

Mariko Morimoto

2016 Most Outstanding Organic Chemistry Student (The Division of Organic Chemistry ~ American Chemical Society)

Junyi Liu

Recipient of the William R. Jones Scholarship

Martin-Luis Riu

Recipient of the William R. Jones Scholarship

Shelly Saini

2016 Outstanding 1st Year Chemistry Student

Brett Weingart

Birk Evavold

Recipient Early Career Achievement Research Grant

Laura Briggs

Excellence in Undergraduate Education Support

Maheen Nadeenm   (ChemMentor)

Katherine Woolard  (General Chemistry Lab)

Ishpaul Bhamber     (Analytical Chemistry Lab)

Chemistry Major Interns with the Department of Homeland Security

One of the most surprising things I learned was that diamonds rarely appear in nature like you stereotypically see in jewelry stores. Most look like small, black, unpolished rocks […] If all of these stones are known to originate from South Africa future researchers can predict that stones with large boron impurities originate near the same area.

Undergraduate Jessica Elinburg, president of our award-winning ACS club, ChEmory, is profiled in a blog about her recent internship with the Department of Homeland Security HS-STEM summer internship program. Congratulations, Jessica!

Alum Awarded Reaxys Prize

Greg Hamilton (06C), who received his PhD from the University of California-Berkeley and is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Shokat group at University of California – San Francisco, was awarded the 2012 Reaxys Prize, celebrating outstanding chemistry research.

Chemistry Hosts Alumni Reception at ACS 2013

A reception was held at the Sofitel Hotel in Philadelphia on Monday August 20th during the Fall ACS Meeting. In attendance were Dean of the Laney Graduate School, Lisa Tedesco, numerous current students, staff and faculty members. We were especially happy to catch up with Benjamin Blass (90C), Anne Gorden (96C), Hao Li (09G), Philip May (10C), Brooke Rosenzweig (03C), Renee and Jonathan Zung (91G), David Primer (12C), Geraint Davies (12C), Stephanie Ovalles Hansen (11G) and Jorn Hansen (10G), Dave Stockwell (10G).

Chemistry Remembers Howard “Hal” Johnston

Harold “Hal” Johnston (41C) died October 20, 2012 at his home in Kensington, CA. He was 92. After leaving Emory, Johnston received a PhD at the California Institute of Technology where he later worked as a faculty member from 1956-1957. He was a professor of chemistry at University of California-Berkeley from 1957-1991, serving as Dean of the College of Chemistry from 1966-1970. He received numerous awards for his work in atmospheric chemistry, including National Medal of Science, the Tyler World Prize for Environmental Achievement and the National Academy of Sciences Award for Chemsitry in the Service to Society. Read more about his life in this tribute.

Two Chemistry Majors Receive Robert T. Jones Scholarships

Chemistry majors Steven Dry and Phillip May have been awarded highly prestigious Robert T. Jones Jr. Scholarships for a year of study at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Widely known as the Bobby Jones Scholarship, the award was established in 1976 and recognizes individuals who will be excellent representatives of Emory at St. Andrews. Qualities required include intellectual excellence, a significant leadership record and academic interests that can be pursued through the offerings at St. Andrews. The scholars receive full tuition and a travel stipend for their year of study. In addition, four St. Andrews students are chosen to spend a year at Emory.

[Press Release]