Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Anne Gorden, a Scholar in Translation

“It was kind of like there were two of me! On Monday, Wednesday, Friday I was doing chemistry and laboratories, and on Tuesday and Thursdays I studied the classics.” says Dr. Anne Gorden (EC’ 96) about her undergraduate experience at Emory. Her desire to study chemistry dated back to high school. Learning that her AP credits left her with space in her schedule opened up the opportunity to choose another field, too. So, between chemistry lectures and labs, (including undergraduate research with Emeritus Professor Al Padwa), Anne began taking classes in English, literature, classics, and Spanish. By the time she graduated, she had earned enough credits to double major in Chemistry and Literature.

Early in her academic career, Anne recognized the value of merging the fields of science and language. As an undergraduate, she had the unique chance to TA for a Quantitative Analysis course. She found that she needed to be creative and deliberate with her choice of words to effectively teach complex scientific concepts to a diverse student population. “You have to think about your audience when you’re putting together a presentation as a way to make it more approachable,” says Anne. Her ability to translate dense scientific topics into a language that everyone could understand mirrored her work in comparative literature, a field that explores culture, theory, and history across literary, disciplinary, and linguistic boundaries.

Anne opted to continue her education at the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her PhD in Organic Chemistry working with Prof. Jonathan Sessler. Her graduate research focused on developing organic compounds for selective detection of actinides. Although the research laboratory  was based in Austin, Anne spent about half of her graduate career traveling to Los Alamos National Laboratory to test her compounds. Once again, Anne was a scholar in translation, bridging her chemical interests in organic chemistry to an in actinide and lanthanide chemistry, ultimately steering her towards a postdoctoral appointment with the same theme at the University of California in Berkeley with Prof. Kenneth Raymond.

Now, as an Associate Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Auburn University, Professor Gorden is making great use of all aspects of her education. Research faculty spend a lot of time writing. Grants, manuscripts, course curriculum, reference letters… the list goes on. Fortunately for Dr. Gorden, her literature degree helped prepare her for the writing that accompanies her current position.

Before being hired, however, Professor Gorden remembers recognizing that she bridges the fields between organic and inorganic chemistry. The seemingly opposite fields can seem as unrelated as… well… chemistry and literature. Instead of viewing her situation as being split between two fields, she began to view it as an opportunity, as she had done back in undergraduate days at Emory. The two independent chemistry disciplines inform each other, making each more dynamic and well-rounded, just as her training in chemistry and literature do.

As a mentor, Professor Gorden aims to help her students reach their goals by presenting as many opportunities as possible. She serves as an advisor for the Association of Women in Science at Auburn University and helps to provide undergraduate women with a platform for support and networking. For Anne, the most important thing for graduate students is to be guided by passion and scientific creativity. “You have to find the spot that you fit in,” she says, “where there is a project that really inspires you, and where you are going to get the skills, the tools you need for your career.”

Twitter: @anniegorden

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!

http://www.campserv.emory.edu/fm/energy_utilities/water-hub/

First Person: Discovering the WaterHub at Emory

Analytical chemistry students listen to a tour guide at the WaterHub at Emory.
Analytical chemistry students listen to a tour guide in the front hall of the WaterHub at Emory.

By: Laura Briggs (EC ’19)

I didn’t know that the WaterHub existed until this semester, which is a shame because it’s right in my backyard. From my dorm room at 15 Eagle Row, I can see the greenhouse and the mysterious metal trapdoors embedded in the grassy area near Peavine Creek Drive. But it wasn’t until my analytical chemistry lab trekked across campus, collection bottles and safety goggles in hand, that I learned how awesome the WaterHub really is.

One of the first things you see when you enter the WaterHub is a banana tree, happily flourishing among the greenery in the heat and humidity. Besides providing me with a bit of joy, the tree is working full-time for a greater cause. Its roots are the centerpiece of a hydroponic reactor beneath the greenhouse that harnesses the natural design of plants to provide efficient and stable water treatment.

As our tour guide explained to the class, the WaterHub recycles up to 400,000 gallons of water every day, meeting almost 40% of Emory’s total water needs. Don’t worry, though- our guide reassured us that repurposed sewage is not coming out of the water fountains. Instead, the recycled water heats and cools buildings and helps flush toilets in some of Emory’s dorms.

How does this Cinderella transformation occur? The treatment process begins with a series of moving bed bioreactors to settle out and digest the – um – solid components of sewage. These large tanks contain a floating plastic netting system where bacteria can settle and grow into compact communities called biofilms.

Different kinds of bacteria proliferate in different bioreactors, and the WaterHub puts each of them to work cleaning various components of the wastewater. Oxygen levels control the types of bacteria that flourish. One bioreactor is completely anaerobic, encouraging the growth of bacteria that can “denitrify” the water, reducing dangerous nitrates into harmless nitrogen gas. Other bioreactors have different oxygen conditions, and the microbes that grow there perform other functions.

The next step in the process also relies on nature; a vast network of plant roots dips down into a series of hydroponic reactors, providing maximum surface area for more junk-eating microbes to inhabit. Alongside the plants, there’s also an artificial system of textile webbing to provide additional filtration.

At this point in the treatment system, the water is pretty clear, and almost all contaminants have been removed. Still, the process isn’t over. Water passes through a clarifier and a filter, removing any remaining solids, nutrients, and color from the water. Finally, any straggling biological contaminants are zapped away with a combination of chlorine and ultraviolet (UV) light. Our class sampled this fully-repurposed water to test for various contents (Here is my blog post exploring this process in-depth!)

The WaterHub – once a mystery to me – is a brilliant marriage of sustainability, engineering, chemistry, and biology right on Peavine Creek Drive! Thanks to Dr. Weaver’s analytical chemistry lab course, I can now look out my dorm room window and appreciate the source of the water that heats the building on these cold winter nights – and the beautifully-evolved natural processes that keep it clean.

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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!

http://www.campserv.emory.edu/fm/energy_utilities/water-hub/

Chemistry Major Michelle Stofberg Featured in ACS “Lab Tales” Book

Michelle Stofberg
Michelle Stofberg

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.
Congratulations, Michelle!
[Lab Tales] (subscriber access)

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]

Julia Gensheimer (EC ’19) Wins American Chemical Society T-Shirt Design Contest

The winning design!
The winning design!

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!”

Thanks to all who voted. Congratulations, Julia!

[via ACS Matters]

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)

Emory Love Story began in Freshman Chemistry

Two Emory college alums stopped by Atwood Chemistry Center last week in search of the old Gen Chem classroom…these students met for the first time in Gen Chem and are now married! We were sad to tell them that the classroom was knocked down to make way for the new chemistry addition…but excited to show them the great new space!

Eduardo Garcia Receives 2013 McMullan Award

Congratulations to Eduardo Garcia (13C) for being awarded the prestigious 2013 Lucius Lamar McMullan Award seeks to reward Emory College graduates who show extraordinary promise of becoming our future leaders and rare potential for service to their community, the nation, and the world. The winner receives $25,000 at the time of graduation to be used for any purpose of his or her choosing. The McMullan Award is presented at the College Diploma Ceremony of the May 2013 Commencement.

[Emory Report]