Alum Wallace Derricotte Receives NSF Grant

Alum Dr. Wallace Derricotte (Evangelista Group) has been awarded a Research Initiation Award from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $224,936.  Wallace is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Morehouse College. The award, entitled “A Symmetry-Adapted Perturbation Theory Approach to Reaction Force Analysis”, will increase the research capacity of the Chemistry Department at Morehouse while creating more opportunities for STEM students.

Wallace received his B.S. in chemistry from Morehouse College in 2013 and his Ph.D. from Emory in 2017. During his time at Emory, he received the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award.

Congratulations, Wallace!

Emory Chemistry Students Celebrate NSF GRFP Awards

Congratulations to Dayna Patterson (Weinert Group) and Kevin Hoang (EC 17′; Davies Group) for being awarded 2018 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation!

Congratulations also to Brendan Deal (Salaita Group) and Michael Hollerbach (Chemistry Graduate Program entering class of 2018) who received Honorable Mentions.

For the 2016 competition, NSF received over 12,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.

Meet the Honorees

Dayna Patterson came to Emory from Houston Baptist University where she had the opportunity to engage in undergraduate research with the Welch Foundation and as an NSF REU participant at Baylor University. Her research in  the Weinert Group focuses on understanding how bacteria change their phenotypes in response to environmental signals. In January 2018, Dayna received the Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority Fellowship to attend the Gordon Research Conference on Metals in Biology and share her research. She has also shared her research with the Atlanta community through the Atlanta Science Festival. She is the current treasurer for Pi Alpha Chemical Society and an associate fellow with the NIH-funded Initiative to Maximize Student Development.

Kevin Hoang conducted undergraduate research in the Davies Group at Emory and graduated in 2017 with a B.S. in chemistry. He is now at Yale University in the Herzon Laboratory.

Brendan Deal is a second year Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Dr. Khalid Salaita. He completed his undergraduate studies at Davidson College just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Brendan’s research is focused on the development of DNA-nanoparticle conjugates with potential applications in the fields of medicine and biotechnology.

 

Michael Hollerbach will be joining Emory this summer after receiving a B.S. in Biochemistry from the College of Charleston in South Carolina.  He chose Emory after seeing all of the exciting research opportunities and looks forward to participating in upcoming research rotations, starting with a summer rotation in the McDonald Group.  His research interests are in Organic Chemistry with a focus on small molecule synthesis and methodology development.  Currently, he is teaching Honors Chemistry at a local high school and wrapping up his undergraduate research at the College of Charleston. At Emory, he looks forward to the opportunity to share his love of Chemistry as a TA and to participate in outreach in the Atlanta community.

Congratulations, Dr. Wallace Derricotte!

Wallace Derricotte with Francesco Evangelista following his defense.
Wallace Derricotte with Francesco Evangelista following his defense.

Wallace Derricotte successfully defended his dissertation, “Development and Applications of Orthogonality Constrained Density Functional Theory for the Accurate Simulation of X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy,” on Wednesday, June 28th, 2017. His committee was led by Dr. Francesco Evangelista with Dr. Joel Bowman and Dr. Susanna Widicus Weaver as additional members.

During his time at Emory, Wallace was an Emerson Fellowship recipient as well as a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Recipient. Up next, Wallace will join the chemistry faculty at Morehouse College as a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor.

Congratulations, Wallace!

Previously:

Wallace Derricotte’s EPiC Summer

EPiC students in the classroom, instructor Wallace Derricotte at the board. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
EPiC students in the classroom, instructor Wallace Derricotte at the board. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

Solar powered cars, boulders, and the expiration date of milk—these are just some of the everyday touchstones that Wallace Derricotte (Evangelista Group) connects to the chemical equations on the chalkboard during a recent classroom session for students taking part in the EPiC Summer Experience. Campers are engaged and attentive—and not at all passive. The class progresses as a conversation, with students connecting the lesson to previous classes as well as their own lives. Wallace handles the student-teacher interaction with calm and good humor and it’s clear to an outside observer that his enthusiasm for what he’s teaching is instrumental to making the classroom exchange so lively.

EPiC students travel between the classroom and the lab. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
EPiC students travel between the classroom and the lab. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

EPiC—which stands for the Emory Pipeline Collaborative—is a science enrichment program offered through the Emory School of Medicine. The program gives high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds a hands-on opportunity to explore careers in the health professions through labs, lectures, and field experiences. For many campers, their engagement with EPiC begins during the school year with Wednesday evening session on Emory’s campus. However, students can also apply and be accepted into EPiC for the summer only.

In addition to familiarizing students with science careers, EPiC introduces students to the college experience. Participants stay on campus for eight weeks, living in the dorms and eating in the dining halls.

After a recent classroom session on reaction processes, I had an opportunity to speak with four campers—Chanaya, Dakota, Omar, and Prynce.  Eager to share their thoughts on how well the program approximates college life, the students were quick to hone in on one of the major differences between college and high school: the food.

EPiC participants (from l-r) Chanaya, Dakota, Omar, and Prynce. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
EPiC participants (from l-r) Chanaya, Dakota, Omar, and Prynce. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

“We really eat like college students,” said Chanaya.

“I’ve only eaten pizza since I’ve been here,” admitted Dakota.

Beyond the food, students described getting a real sense of what college is like, including being responsible for their own schedules and being a part of a busy community. “We get to experience the hustle and bustle of college life,” said Prynce. “I like that we had a lot of freedoms we don’t usually get at home,” added Omar.

The residential program also allows students to fully immerse themselves in the coursework—which covers a broad range of core concepts, from bonds to reaction processes to chemical equilibrium. “The classes are really rigorous,” says Chanaya. But, she adds, the more you learn, the less intimidating chemistry seems. “Mr. Wallace makes chemistry so much easier.”

Students work in small groups to solve problems on the chalkboard--with Wallace's help (far right). Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
Students work in small groups to solve problems on the chalkboard–with Wallace’s help (far right). Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

Listening to Wallace’s students talk about how much they’re loving math—even calculus—the potential long-term impact of EPiC on students’ comfort level with science is clear. The students speak confidently about possible careers in a broad range of STEM fields. Chanaya wants to be a teacher or a nurse. Dakota and Prynce are both interested in engineering. And Omar is open to a broad range of careers, as long as it has to do with science: “Before, I kind of wanted to do something in an office or something. But now I know I want to do something scientifically related.”

Wallace Derricotte, an NSF GRFP awardee, become involved in EPiC in early 2015 when the administrators of the program approached him to take over for a graduate student teaching EPiC’s chemistry courses. “Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Wallace. “I’ve lived in Atlanta all my life and I relish the opportunity to give back something to the community that has given so much to me.”

The program also supports Wallace’s career goals for after the PhD. He hopes to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate college or university. “Even though the students I’m teaching are in high school, I teach the class at a college level,” says Wallace. “I’m able to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t when teaching chemistry. It’s good to get a feel for what teaching methods resonate with students and which ones don’t.”

EPiC campers observe an experiment in the lab. Students move between classroom and bench work, giving them an opportunity to directly apply classroom concepts through lab experiences.
EPiC campers observe an experiment in the lab. Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

Atasha Sutton, Instructional Lab Specialist for chemistry and an administrative lead for EPiC, praises Wallace’s approach. “Wallace is an excellent instructor, who made sure students were engaged during his lectures and had a thorough understanding of the material being taught.” Research advisor Francesco Evangelista echoes that praise, connecting the teaching opportunity to Wallace’s NSF award: “Wallace’s NSF fellowship recognizes both his excellence as a researcher and a genuine dedication to teaching and mentoring young scientists.”

The experiment comes together! Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.
The experiment comes together! Photo by the Emory University Department of Chemistry.

Some of the demands of EPiC’s curriculum have given Wallace, who is a computational chemist, an opportunity to get outside his comfort zone and step back in to the environment of a wet lab. During a recent laboratory session with EPiC, he laughed with the students while having a brief struggle during the set-up of a demonstration on reaction kinetics. “I’m a theoretical chemist,” he reminded the students, as they laughed. His willingness to laugh at his own hiccup, however brief, is clearly part of what makes the students comfortable in the classroom and the lab. Everyone is learning.

“The opportunity with EPiC has truly been a learning experience for me,” agrees Wallace. “Every time I step into the classroom I feel sharper and more prepared that the previous class and that’s an experience I feel a lot of PhD students don’t get. The unique opportunity to design, implement, and teach your own course is a valuable skill for anyone looking to go into academia.”

Graduate Student Spotlight: Robert Kubiak (Davies Group) Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Robert Kubiak (far right) pictured at on outreach event in March 2016. Photo provided by Pi Alpha Chemical Society.
Robert Kubiak (far right) pictured at on outreach event in March 2016. Photo provided by Pi Alpha Chemical Society.

Graduate students aren’t often tasked with completing that classic elementary school assignment: “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” But Robert Kubiak has a great answer. After being accepted into Emory’s graduate program in chemistry, he got a jump start on his research by completing a summer rotation in the Davies Lab. This experience contributed to his successful application for the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Robert says: “One critical aspect that the reviewers said was helpful in my application was that I had already began to reach out to the community here in Atlanta and take on leadership roles at Emory. Doing a summer rotation before the fall semester was key to making these connections.”

The National Science Foundation received over 17,000 applications this year for the Graduate Research Fellowship program and made 2,000 award offers. As one of the 2016 awardees, Robert will receive three years of tuition and a stipend from NSF. The award is intended to recognize promising scientists at the beginning of their careers, giving them the resources to reach their career goals.

Before starting at Emory, Robert served as a platoon senior medic in the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion. He brings this unique leadership experience to his work in chemistry through a commitment to building community using science. “I am really interested in working to introduce scientific conversations to those who may not realize the profound impact science has on every aspect of our daily lives. I hope to encourage young students to embrace scientific discovery and pursue careers in the STEM fields,” he says.

Robert’s research at Emory takes place in the context of the NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization. “C–H functionalization is new, relevant, and rapidly changing the way we approach organic synthesis. C–H functionalization bypasses the need for traditional functional groups saving time, money, and reducing the waste associated with synthesis.” Robert’s research project focuses on developing novel catalysts for N-sulfonyltriazoles–nitrogen-based compounds. This research has the potential for broad impact as nitrogen is found everywhere in nature and is an important component of many pharmaceuticals. “Inserting nitrogen through functionalization will save time and money in pharmaceutical synthesis,” explains Robert.

The research also has the potential to lead Robert on new professional adventures. “The CCHF offers a study abroad component, and this research would facilitate a great opportunity to collaborate with the Iatmi group in Japan.” The NSF award also opens up the possibility to participate in NSF’s Graduate Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) program. “I would like to take advantage of GROW to study abroad,” says Kubiak. “It will be an opportunity to develop my ability to teach basic scientific skills—ideally in a community where access to higher scientific education is limited.”

Robert’s proposal was completed in chemistry’s Proposal Writing Course, led by Frank McDonald. Robert says that his experience in the course was “absolutely critical in articulating my past experiences in a meaningful way that made me a competitive applicant.” Robert hopes to draw on the resources of the award to further develop his own mentoring skills. “I plan on working very hard over the next couple of years to develop a robust understanding of organic chemistry, my skills as a research scientist, and my proficiency as a mentor in the field. Fortunately, these goals go hand-in-hand together.”

Graduate Student Spotlight: Roxanne Glazier (Salaita Group) Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Roxanne Glazier. Photo provided by Roxanne Glazier.
Roxanne Glazier. Photo provided by Roxanne Glazier.

Complicated systems of communication are at the center of Roxanne Glazier’s research. She is developing novel methods to elucidate the mechanobiology of podosomes, protrusive structures that allow cells to migrate through tissue. “More broadly, these methods can be applied to the study of receptor mechanics in almost any cell-cell or cell-matrix interaction,” explains Roxanne. It turns out cells “talk” about a lot of things—cell development, coagulation, remodeling, and the immune response, to name a few.

Roxanne’s own path through graduate school is not without its complexities. She is a student in Emory and Georgia Tech’s joint Biomedical Engineering Program. Her “home base” lab is in chemistry under the leadership of Khalid Salaita. However, she completed coursework at both institutions and completed her Teaching Assistant duties at Tech. While these distinctions govern logistics rather the science itself, students have to be motivated and well-organized to balance such a wide range of influences and opportunities.

Luckily, Roxanne is well-suited to the challenge. “The word that comes to mind when I think of Roxanne is persistence,” says Khalid Salaita. “She has really focused an enormous amount of energy in applying advanced fluorescence spectroscopy techniques to understand important fundamental questions in the area of cell biology. The methods she is developing will be broadly important to understanding how living systems harness molecular tugs for cellular communication and sensing their environment.”

Recently, Roxanne’s research was recognized with the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship seeks to support promising scientists at the very beginning of their careers, offering three years of tuition assistance and stipend support alongside access to a wide range of professional development programs. Roxanne is excited about the opportunity to draw on this support as part of her ongoing exploration of future career options. “I came to grad school completely set on entering academia, but recently I’ve been learning about exciting opportunities in biotech and cell therapy industry,” she says. “For right now I’m keeping an open mind and looking into all options.”

Roxanne credits strong mentoring in BME with helping her succeed in the NSF GRFP competition—17,000 students applied this year for 2,000 awards. “More than 50 percent of the eligible BME students in my cohort have received the NSF GRFP. I think that speaks very highly to the quality of students that Emory (and Tech) attracts.” The national average, Glazier points out, is closer to ten percent of applicants.

Another benefit of Roxanne’s interdisciplinary perspective is the creativity it brings into her work. “My background is in physics and biology, but I’m studying biomedical engineering in a chemistry lab. It’s been exciting to interact with scientists and engineers with diverse skill sets and approaches to problem solving,” she says.

Using that creative lens, Roxanne helped to design a hands-on science activity booth for the Atlanta Science Festival’s Exploration Expo, the yearly capstone to the week-long event held in Olympic Centennial Park. The booth, “Fun with Ferrofluids”, has been a successful addition to the festival two years running. “Activities like these bring science to the general public and I think these experiences really strengthened my application.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chemistry Researchers Receive 2016 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Congratulations to Robert Kubiak (Davies Group) and Roxanne Galzier (Salaita Group) for being awarded 2016 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation! Robert is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Roxanne is a graduate student in the Emory/Ga Tech joint Biomedical Engineering program.

Congratulations also to Anthony Sementilli (Chemistry, Lynn Group) and Aaron Blanchard (BME, Salaita Group) who received Honorable Mentions.

For the 2016 competition, NSF received close to 17,000 applications, and made 2,000 award offers.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Wallace Derricotte

Wallace Derricotte. Photo provided by Wallace Derricotte.
Wallace Derricotte. Photo provided by Wallace Derricotte.

Graduate student Wallace Derricotte was recently awarded a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, one of the most prestigious awards that can be bestowed on a young scientist during the early part of their career. NSF receives over 14,000 applications (from across all scientific disciplines) and picks 2,000 fellows each year. Fellows receive three years of stipend support at $32,000 per year and a $10,000 educational allowance.

Wallace submitted a research proposal and supporting documents describing his plans to make a broad impact on the community with his research. His experience with summer research at the beginning of his graduate career was particularly important for helping him to craft a strong application. “Starting research at Emory during the summer was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I believe the work I completed during the time helped me to build a more compelling research proposal and the rapport I built with my research advisor [Francesco Evangelista] made it possible for him to write me a powerful recommendation.”

Wallace’s proposal stood out to the committee because of his research background and because of his bold plans to contribute to the future of undergraduate education in chemistry.

“One of the things my NSF reviewers loved about my application was the fact that I want to revamp undergraduate physical chemistry education by introducing a course in ‘Mathematical Chemistry’. This semester long course would serve as a bridge between Organic and Physical Chemistry courses where a lot of undergraduate students seem to get lost because they haven’t been introduced to the necessary mathematical concepts needed to succeed. Whatever university hires me will be getting a highly motivated scientist with a keen interest in revamping the way physical chemistry is taught at the undergraduate level.”

Wallace hopes that his NSF award will help him to stand out on the job market as he pursues a career in academia. A true leader, Wallace’s hopes for the future are not solely focused on his own success. He’s also excited about using his research acumen and pedagogical creativity to serve the chemistry community. “That’s my future plan,” says Wallace, “to make a positive change so that the next generation of scientists can be 100 times better than I am.”

Chemistry Students Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Three  students  received NSF awards in the 2014 cycle–congratulations to Carolyn Cohen, an undergraduate major, and to Wallace Derricotte and Keon Reid, Department of Chemistry graduate students. Alum Kelly Burke who completed undergraduate research in the Dyer Group and now attends CalTech also received a 2014 award.