Faculty Spotlight: Antonio Brathwaite Teaches Chemistry and Confidence

Dr. Antonio Brathwaite, Photo Credit: Jessica Lily Photography

In 2005, Antonio Brathwaite relocated from the South Caribbean to South Carolina, where he attended the College of Charleston on a full athletic scholarship. Shortly thereafter, he transferred to Erskine College where he donned a maroon #15 jersey for their men’s soccer team. While he undoubtedly knew his way around the soccer field, choosing a field of study proved to be a much greater challenge. At the time, Dr. Brathwaite was planning on pursuing his degree in physics, but he struggled to find himself truly excited by the coursework. After briefly considering sociology as a major, he decided to switch to chemistry, a decision which proved to be the right one after his first sophomore chemistry class.

While at Erskine College, Dr. Brathwaite conducted undergraduate summer research in the lab of Dr. Michael Duncan at the University of Georgia. He developed a deeper interest in chemistry as well as a rapport with Dr. Duncan. Dr. Duncan would go on to invite Dr. Brathwaite to join his lab as a graduate student, an offer which he graciously accepted.

Upon earning his doctorate degree, Dr. Brathwaite and his wife traveled to the United States Virgin Islands, where he worked as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). After three years, Dr. Brathwaite returned to Atlanta to join the Emory Department of Chemistry as a Senior Lecturer.

“I am passionate about empowering and inspiring students to find their purpose in life and develop the courage to walk in that purpose,” says Dr. Brathwaite. “My goal is to use chemistry as a platform to help students develop and refine the skills that they will need to realize their fullest potential.” This commitment to student success and empowerment was incredibly apparent to Dr. Tracy McGill, fellow undergraduate professor and chair of Dr. Brathwaite’s hiring committee. “From my initial introduction to Dr. Brathwaite through his application materials, he stood out as an engaged, creative scholar who is focused on the student experience and success,” says Dr. McGill. “He thinks deeply about teaching scientific practices with engaging, ‘real-world’ applications.”

Currently, Dr. Brathwaite teaches physical chemistry labs to junior and senior undergraduate students. While the material for this course can be a bit daunting, Dr. Brathwaite maintains a good rapport with the students by practicing an inclusive and transparent teaching style. “I make it my duty to be as open with my students as possible. It is a lot easier to convince someone about the quantum mechanical explanation for chemical bonds if you have a bond with them,” he says.

This creative, student-centered approach is appreciated by both students and colleagues. “During his first few months in our department, he has shown that he is devoted to supporting our amazing group of chemistry majors through a rigorous lab experience, but also by advising and mentoring,” says Dr. McGill. “His insights and ideas for creating a diverse and engaging experience for students at all levels in the department has already made the chemistry community stronger.  His approachability, sense of humor, creativity, and unwavering commitment to the holistic undergraduate experience is inspiring.”

In addition to being accessible and relatable, Dr. Brathwaite is also fully invested in each of his students and attempts to instill them each with a sense of confidence, an attribute that many students find invaluable in reaching their educational and professional goals. “My most special moments as a teacher are centered around the success of my students,” says Dr. Brathwaite. “I like having the ability to positively affect the lives of the next generation of scientists and leaders.”

One teaching moment that stands out to Dr. Brathwaite as being particularly special was witnessing the graduation of his first research student at UVI, Jean Devera. “Jean was a freshman student in my first general chemistry class at UVI. Within the first few weeks of class, I realized he was a special student and asked him to do research with me,” says Dr. Brathwaite. “Jean graduated summa cum laude and is currently enrolled at Boston University School of Medicine.” Dr. Brathwaite aims to inspire and empower students, and moments of success like Jean’s motivate him and serve as a reminder of the impact he can have.

Just as he continues to be an avid soccer enthusiast even after his time on the field has become more infrequent, he remains similarly enthusiastic about seeing his students go on to reach their fullest potential even beyond his mentorship. He takes pride in his role in helping students become the scientists, professionals, and people they are meant to be. “I am looking forward to sharing in the successes of my students at Emory,” he says.

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.

Previously:

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:

Congratulations, Dr. Lewen Yang!

Lewen YangLewen Yang successfully defended his thesis, “Line tension assisted membrane permeation at the transition temperature in mixed phase lipid bilayers” in Fall 2017. Lewen’s thesis committed was led by James T. Kindt with Joel Bowman and Michael C. Heaven as additional members.

During his time at Emory, Lewen worked on explaining a phenomenon that was first observed in the early 1970’s, that ions can move more quickly through lipid bilayers when the temperature is close to the bilayer’s melting point.  At that temperature, zones of ordered lipids, which are very hard to pass through, exist next to zones of disordered lipids. The experiments suggest that the presence of the ordered lipids make the disordered lipids even more permeable than they would be on their own.  The explanation proposed originally, and widely cited still, is that the boundary between these zones is exceptionally leaky.  Lewen performed simulations on a highly simplified model that pointed to a different explanation – that leakage doesn’t actually occur at the interfaces themselves, but rather that the line tension of the interface exerts a tension on the disordered lipids that makes them more permeable.  He followed up this study with demonstrations, using a more realistic model, that the effect of the interface on the energy barrier to permeation could be predicted quantitatively.   His work has opened up a whole new perspective on an interesting phenomenon that is relevant to efforts to use thermally activated lipid containers for targeted drug release. 

Lewen started a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Delaware with Prof. Ed Lyman in April, where he continues to use molecular simulation to understand lipid phase behavior.

Congratulations, Lewen!

Congratulations, Dr. Joshua Bartlett!

Josh Bartlett (center, in red) pictured with members of the Heaven Group after a successful defense.
Josh Bartlett (center, in red) pictured with members of the Heaven Group after a successful defense.

Joshua Bartlett successfully defended his thesis, “Electronic and Photoionization Spectroscopy of Heavy Metal-Containing Diatomic Molecules” on Tuesday, September 27th, 2016. Drew’s thesis committed was led by Michael C. Heaven with James T. Kindt and Susanna Widicus Weaver as additional members. Joshua will begin a postdoctoral appointment at Los Alamos National Lab in October. Congratulations, Joshua!

Meet the New Graduate Class: Cameron Pratt

Cameron Pratt
Cameron Pratt

Cameron Pratt comes to Emory from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. At Hope, he had the opportunity to be involved in multiple research projects that sparked his love of chemistry as well as his interest in teaching at a primarily undergraduate institution in the future. This summer, Cam joined Emory as a summer rotation student in the Davies Group. He also became involved with Pi Alpha Chemical Society, helping stage demos for visiting summer camps. At Emory, he looks forward to getting excited about new research projects and learning more about teaching as a TA. Outside of chemistry, Cam enjoys theatre and improv and hopes to eventually start a graduate improv troupe at Emory.

Divisions of Interest: Inorganic, Organic, Physical

Meet the New Graduate Class: Micah Eller

Micah Eller
Micah Eller

Micah Eller comes to Emory from Tennessee Technological University—the same school attended by his parents and siblings! The small chemistry department at TTU gave Micah the opportunity to get to know the faculty and to participate in undergraduate research. At Emory, he is particularly interested in getting involved in spectroscopy research. He is also interested in dynamics and kinetics. In his free time, Micah enjoys video games and has spent “way too much time” playing World of Warcraft. In future, he is interested in being a faculty member at a PUI. 

Division of Interest: Physical

Meet the New Graduate Class: Siying Cen

Siying Cen
Siying Cen

Siying Cen comes from Liuzhou, a southern city in China. As a result, she feels comfortable about Atlanta’s weather. Siying Cen gradated from Wuhan University, China. Her research background is in synthesis and analysis, but she is now interested in biophysics. Siying loves singing a lot and want to set up a “chemrus” in the Department of Chemistry.

Divisions of Interest: Biomolecular, Physical

Meet the New Graduate Class: Dave Bruns

 

Dave Bruns
Dave Bruns

Dave Bruns comes to Emory from Vanderbilt University. Dave appreciated that Vandy—like Emory—offers “outstanding academics and great athletic programs that are not football.” After graduation, Dave worked for a year and he is excited to get back into the classroom. Dave says, “I chose Emory because the faculty were proactive in reaching out to me during the decision-making process and made it clear that they were concerned with developing me into the best chemist I can be. The beautiful new building also played a considerable role in my decision.” After Emory, Dave’s dream job would include teaching, whether as a research professor or lecturer.

Research Interests: Catalyst development, mechanistic and kinetic studies of catalytic conversions

Divisions of Interest: Inorganic, Organic, Physical

What makes Dave Unique: I once had a mullet that gave Joe Dirt’s a run for its money.

 

Meet the New Graduate Class: Tao Jin

Tao jin
Tao Jin

Tao Jin comes to Emory from the University of Science and Technology in China. He chose Emory for its research expertise and the opportunity to be inspired by the work of our PIs. Tao’s undergraduate research is in the synthesis and optimization of materials as well as some advanced knowledge of techniques in physical chemistry. His research interests include photocatalysis, energy materials, and nano-materials.

Divisions of Interest: Inorganic, Physical