Graduate Student Spotlight: Jacob Burman

Jacob Burman

For Jacob Burman, choosing Emory for graduate school meant a cross-country move from his West Coast seaside stomping ground. Three years later, travel opportunities with the graduate program have led him even farther afield, from wandering the streets of Osaka to working in an office with a breathtaking view of Lake Geneva, allowing Jacob to couple two of his greatest passions: travel and chemistry.

Before starting graduate school at Emory, Jacob graduated from California Lutheran University with a bachelor’s in chemistry and a minor in mathematics. As an undergraduate, Jacob conducted research in the lab of Dr. Jason Kingsbury, where he worked to optimize a formal carbon-insertion into carbonyl compounds using diazoalkanes. Jacob’s undergraduate experience gave him scientific training and technical skills, but also instilled in him a sense of curiosity and passion. “I always loved the idea of building or shaping the world with chemistry,” says Jacob. “I always knew I wanted to do chemistry, but I didn’t know I wanted to do organic chemistry until I had taken my first class.”

The CCHF map of the global network of research institutes focused on C-H Functionalization.

Jacob is currently in his third year working on his Ph.D. research in the lab of Dr. Simon Blakey. Research in the Blakey Lab focuses on the foundations of chemical reactivity, catalysis, and synthetic strategy, with potential impacts on solar energy conversion, touch-screen display technology, and therapeutics. The group is involved with the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization (CCHF), which just received a five year, $20 million renewal from the National Science Foundation. The CCHF mission is “to leverage the potential of the center to develop technology for selective C–H functionalization that will revolutionize the practice and reshape the teaching of chemical synthesis, empowering end users in the material sciences, fine chemicals development and drug discovery.”

The CCHF actively promotes collaboration, and building relationships with other scientists and the public is central to the Center’s work. “The CCHF has developed strong collaborations with many international researchers and offers an exchange program for our students to study abroad for up to three months,” says Dr. Huw Davies, CCHF Director. “Conducting a meaningful research collaboration in an international setting is a great career development opportunity. The CCHF actively encourages its students to be involved in international exchange programs with our collaborators in Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.”

Jacob cites Emory’s involvement with the CCHF as one of the many reasons he chose to come here for graduate school. “Emory just seemed like a really good choice. There were so many opportunities that I could see myself benefitting from while being a student with the CCHF,” says Jacob. These opportunities came early when, as a first-year, Jacob travelled to Japan with the CCHF, visiting partnered organizations for a workshop on inspiring international collaboration. He spent a week engaging with other scientists in his field, learning about their research, and sharing his own. “As a student in the CCHF you are exposed to a wonderful array of different disciplines, and you learn new scientific vocabularies and techniques through this exposure,” adds Dr. Dan Morton, Managing Director of the CCHF.

Jacob enjoyed his time in Japan so much that when a second opportunity to travel abroad presented itself, he jumped on it. At the end of his second year, he spent two months at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. During his time abroad, Jacob collaborated with Dr. Nicolai Cramer and his group to engage in asymmetric catalysis for the next step in developing his synthetic method. Shortly upon returning from Switzerland, Jacob authored his first paper entitled, “Regioselective Intermolecular Allylic C-H Amination of Disubstituted Olefins via Rhodium/π-Allyl Intermediates” in Angewandte Chemie. Jacob explains, “More than 60% of pharmaceuticals advertised and out on the market contain a nitrogen as the key component for activity. Any new, interesting, or insightful way to develop amination technology can give more powerful tools for developing pharmaceuticals.”

View of Lausanne, Switzerland from the Cramer Lab at EPFL.

“Jacob worked incredibly hard to develop a new reactivity platform, opening up a new research program in the lab,” says Jacob’s research advisor, Dr. Simon Blakey. “His commitment to the project allowed him to publish the initial communication of this work within 12 months of starting the project, and set the stage for the next phase of the work which was carried out with our collaborators at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland.”

Now Jacob is focusing on optimizing and building upon the techniques outlined in his publication. Most recently, he travelled for a third time to Charlotte, North Carolina where he presented his research at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (SERMACS). In the future, Jacob plans on finding a post-doc position with an ultimate goal of one day becoming a professor at a research institution where he can navigate his own scientific exploration.  “I really like thinking and talking and doing chemistry and I would like to do that for the rest of my life,” he says.


Arial view of EPFL on the coast of Lake Geneva.

Victor Ma Receives Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award

Victor Ma, a fourth-year graduate student in the lab of Dr. Khalid Salaita, was recently selected as one of twenty-six Predoctoroal to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award Fellows from the National Institute of Health. This award will provide Victor with two years of funding to complete his doctoral thesis and an additional four years of funding for future postdoc training. In the Salaita lab, with co-mentorship by Dr. Brian Evavold, Victor’s research focuses on developing technologies to study mechanobiology at the molecular scale. With an ultimate goal of establishing an alternative mechanism for regulating T cell activity, he studies the roles of mechanical forces in T cell activation, whether these forces are coordinately controlled by mechano-sensitive proteins, and the importance of these forces for T cell biological function. The findings from these studies can provide insight into a potential strategy for developing effective immunotherapies.

In his postdoc, Victor plans on transitioning into the field of tumor immunology, where he hopes to capitalize on his skillset to elucidate the physical mechanisms responsible for preventing T cells from interacting with tumor cells. “My ultimate career goal is to become an independent investigator at a research-intensive university, where I can assume teaching duties and direct a research lab that combines knowledge from various disciplines to innovate career research,” says Victor. “This award will surely serve as a stepping stone to help achieve my goal!”

Congratulations, Victor!

Alumni Career Seminar: From Science to Snapchat

Xiaohong Wang

On Friday, September 29th, the Department of Chemistry welcomed back one of our distinguished alumni, Dr. Xiaohong Wang. Since earning her PhD in Chemistry, Dr. Wang has been working as a software engineer with Snap Inc. During her talk entitled “First Impression of Working in Industry- From Chemistry PhD Student to Engineer at Snap Inc.”, Dr. Wang outlined her professional journey and gave us a peek into her life as a Snap Inc. software engineer.

Dr. Wang earned her Bachelor’s degree in chemical physics from the University of Science and Technology of China. From there, she joined the Emory community and completed both her Master of Science in computer science and her Doctor of Philosophy in computational science in the Bowman Group before taking up her position at Snap, Inc.

Snap Inc.—makers of the popular “Snapchat” app—is a camera company founded in 2011 that believes “reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.” Snapchat is used by over 150 million people every day to connect with others all around the world. The company is constantly working to build and develop the best platform for communication and storytelling. Software engineers like Xiaohong contribute to this vision by evaluating the technical tradeoffs of decisions, performing code reviews, and building robust and scalable products.

The transition from chemistry to computer science, although seemingly a major change in profession, turned out to be quite a natural one for Dr. Wang. During her graduate studies in chemistry, she received training in numerical techniques, data analysis, programming, writing, and problem solving. These skills have proven to be invaluable for her engineering position with Snap, Inc., and she credits much of her success as a software engineer to the training she received during her time at Emory. For instance, during the interview process, Dr. Wang was asked to write a program on her own computer—something that came naturally thanks to her PhD work.

Perhaps more difficult than the change in profession was the transition from graduate school to industry. “There are many things we need to learn, like new techniques, how to communicate with managers and colleagues, and how to adjust our expectations,” Dr. Wang said. She explained that her current position relies heavily on teamwork and maintains a fast working pace in a way that is very different from graduate school. Xiaohong also shared that she is the only woman on her particular team at Snap, Inc. Overall, she finds the environment welcoming and has developed relationships with fellow women in tech.

Overall, while this transition from graduate school to industry required her to acquire a new set of skills and adapt to a new environment, Dr. Wang has hit her stride with the company. Having spent several months working on the company’s first piece of hardware, Spectacles that let users take photos directly from the frames, Dr. Wang said, “The launch of the product is really exciting for the whole team, the whole company, and I feel very proud to be part of it.”

The Emory Department of Chemistry is fortunate to have an amazing group of alumni who have gone on to pursue impressive careers in a variety of fields. The successes of these individuals remind us how capable we are of reaching our own goals and motivate us to continue chasing our dreams. Thank you to Dr. Wang for taking the time to visit Emory and share her journey with us!

This special seminar was made possible via support from the Emory Laney Graduate School Alumni Office.


Congratulations, Dr. Rolando Rengifo!

RoRolando Rengifo successfully defended his dissertation, “From Amyloid to Copper Arrays: The design of a functional Metalloamyloid Nanostructure (MAN),” on July 6th, 2017. His committee was chaired by David Lynn with Khalid Salaita and Vincent Conticello as additional members. 

In addition to his accomplishments in the lab, Rolando was a dedicated student leader during his time at Emory. He served as President of Pi Alpha Chemical Society immediately followed  by a term as President of the Graduate Student Council. During his time as a fraternity house director, he was named Fraternity House Director of the Year. Rolando has also been recognized for his leadership with the Student Impact Award and the Laney Development Council Leadership Award. He is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society.

Next up, Rolando plans to attend law school at the Notre Dame School of Law on his path towards a future career as a patent attorney.

Congratulations, Rolando!

Congratulations, Dr. Eric Andreansky!

Eric Andreansky successfully defended his dissertation, “Synthetic Studies Toward Methanoquinolizidine-Containing Akuammiline Alkaloids ” on Wednesday, April 26th, 2017. Eric’s committee was led by Simon Blakey with Frank McDonald and Lanny Liebeskind as additional members.

Eric was a Laney Graduate School Woodruff Scholar. He was also a service instructor for the Emory NMR Research Center and interned for a year with the Emory Office of Technology Transfer. Eric was also a member of the first Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) cohort, a National Institute of Health-funded graduate training program run jointly with Emory and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Eric plans to pursue a career in patent law.

Congratulations, Eric!

Congratulations, Dr. Michael Sullivan!

Michael Neal Sullivan successfully defended his dissertation, “Electronic Spectroscopy of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Group IIA Metallic Oxides ” on Monday, April 10th, 2017. Michael’s committee was led by Michael C. Heaven with Tim Lian and Susanna Widicus Weaver as additional members.

During his time at Emory, Michael received the 2012 Outstanding TA Award for his work in physical chemistry lab. He also completed two internships (summer 2013 and 2014) at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Albuquerque, NM. 

Next up, Michael will start a postdoctoral position with Dr. Lei Zhu at the New York Dept. of Health, Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY at the end of June.

Congratulations, Michael!

Congratulations, Dr. Galior!

Kornelia poses with her group and her best friend after a successful defense.
Kornelia poses with her group and her best friend after a successful defense.

Kornelia Galior successfully defended her thesis, “Protein-Based Tension Probes: From Mapping Integrin Adhesion Forces to the Mechanopharmacology of Smooth Muscle Cells” on Wednesday, April 12th, 2017. Kornelia’s thesis committed was led by Khalid Salaita with Vince Conticello and David Lynn as additional members.

During her time at Emory, Kornelia received two Quayle awards. She will start a clinical chemistry fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in July.

Congratulations, Kornelia!

Congratulations, Dr. Marika Wieliczko!

Marika Wieliczko defended her thesis, “Innocent and Non-innocent Countercation Interactions in Transition Metal Oxidation Catalysts” on Wednesday, April 5th, 2017. Marika’s thesis committed was led by Craig L. Hill with Cora MacBeth and Brian Dyer as additional members.

During her time at Emory, Marika was a founding member of SciComm, the graduate student science communications group. She was also an organizing member of the recent “Sickle & Flow” benefit concert that raised money for research into sickle cell disease.

Following graduation, Marika will be based in Washington, D.C. where she has a position in editorial development for the Royal Society of Chemistry in North America. Specifically, she will be working with the inorganic, nano, materials, and chemical engineering as well as general chemistry journals. 

Congratulations, Marika!


Chemistry Graduate Students Raise Awareness with Sickle and Flow Concert

Congratulations, Dr. Christian Wallen!

Christian WallenChristian Wallen successfully defended his thesis, “The Coordination Chemistry of Hydrogen Peroxide” on Monday, December 5th, 2016. Christian’s thesis committed was led by Chris Scarborough with Lanny Liebeskind and Simon Blakey as additional members.

During his time at Emory, Christian received the Osborne R. Quayle Advanced/Senior Student Award (2016) and Outstanding TA Award for Organic Chemistry Laboratories (2014). Next up, he plans to work as a postdoctoral scholar with John Berry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Congratulations, Christian!