Congratulations to the 2019 NSF GRFP Awardees and Honorable Mentions!

Congratulations to the 2019 NSF GRFP Awardees and Honorable Mentions!

The Department of Chemistry is so proud of its NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Awardees for 2019! The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program provides recognition and support for outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines. The GRFP selects recipients with great promise to achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional endeavors.

2019 NSF GRFP Awardees:

Anna Kaplan

Anna earned her Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin college before coming to Emory University in 2018. During her undergraduate studies, she participated in The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program for two different projects. She has since joined the Wuest Lab, where she works on organic synthesis of natural products and analogs thereof to discover new narrow-spectrum antibiotics. She is also involved in various outreach events with PACS and The Association for Women in Science  (AWIS), including the Atlanta Science Festival and the Emory Summer Science Academy.

 

Savannah Post

Savannah joined the Wuest lab in 2018 after earning her undergraduate degree from Berry College. While at Berry, she worked on methods for stereoselective synthesis and the synthesis of Lumacaftor analogues for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. Now, Savannah works on the total synthesis of an antibacterial natural product. Savannah is also actively involved with The Association for Women in Science (AWIS), currently serving as their Treasurer.

 

Daniel Salgueiro

Daniel, who graduated from Emory University in 2018, now attends graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He works in the lab of Dr. Dan Weix, where he uses Cross-Electrophile Coupling (XEC) to form sp3-sp3-sp2 C-C bonds. His NSF proposal was on the use of cooperative diaryl ketone/palladium catalysis to use allylic C-H bonds as pronucleophiles for traditional cross-coupling, based on the research he worked on in Blakey Lab during his time at Emory.

 

Ingrid Wilt

Ingrid is a member of the Wuest lab, currently working on total synthesis of a natural product with anti-fungal activity. Before joining the Wuest lab in 2018, Ingrid attended Colorado College where she conducted research under the guidance of Dr. Habiba Vaghoo. In addition to her research, Ingrid serves as the co-speaker chair for The Association for Women in Science (AWIS).

 

2019 NSF GRFP Honorable Mentions:

Rachel Bender

After graduating from Capital University with a B.A. in chemistry and biochemistry and minors in math and biology, Rachel came to Emory University where she is co-advised by Dr. Jen Heemstra and Dr. Khalid Salaita. Her project involves characterizing the biophysical properties of peptide nucleic acids with a goal of developing them into a tool for analyzing cell mechanics. In addition to her research, Rachel volunteers with Science for Georgia and the Atlanta Science Festival and serves as STEM Activity Leader with the Discovery Program Inc. Rachel has also been the recipient of an Emory Graduate Diversity Fellowship.

Aaron Bosse

Aaron joined the Davies Lab in 2017 after earning his bachelor’s degree from College of the Holy Cross. In the Davies Lab, he works on total synthesis of paracyclophane natural products, method development of new diazo precursors for C-H functionalization, and exotic C-H functionalization substrates useful to pharma. He actively works with the CCHF, having helped run their booth at the Atlanta Science Festival for the past two years. Aaron was named the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Most Outstanding Senior Undergraduate at Holy Cross and he was the recipient of the Quayle New Student Award here at Emory.

Ana Cheng

Ana came to Emory University from New College of Florida. She joined the Wuest lab in January 2018, where she currently works on synthetic retinoids with anti-MRSA activity. In addition to her interests in total synthesis and medicinal chemistry, Ana is a member of The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) Ana is actively involved with Atlanta Roller Derby as both a skater and board member.

Maddie Dekarske

Maddie earned her Bachelor’s degree from Agnes Scott College before coming to Emory, where she now works in the Wuest Lab. She has two projects in the lab: making analogs of nTZDpa, which kills growing and persisitent S. aureus, and investigating the mechanism of action of honokiol derivatives, which kill S. mutans. Maddie has also received a Goldwater Honorable Mention in 2016 and another NSF GRFP Honorable Mention in 2017, she has been inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board, and she has been recognized in Who’s Who Among Students at American Universities and Colleges.

Chemistry Students Advance in Collegiate Inventors Competition

Aaron Blanchard and Khalid Salaita with the Rolosense.
Aaron Blanchard and Khalid Salaita with the Rolosense. Photo via Georgia Tech.

Kevin Yehl and Aaron Blanchard (Salaita Lab) have advanced to the national finals in the 2016 Collegiate Inventors Competition in Alexandria, Virginia. Their invention, Rolosense, turns chemical energy into rolling motion.

Founded in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition recognizes and rewards the nation’s top collegiate inventors. In partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Collegiate Inventors Competition is the nation’s foremost competition encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity in students who are working on cutting-edge inventions at their colleges and universities. The Competition is a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and is sponsored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and AbbVie Foundation, with additional support from Arrow Electronics.

For more on their achievement, check out this article in the GA Tech/Emory Biomedical Engineering program newsletter.

Congratulations, Kevin and Aaron!

Update: The Rolosense team won bronze!

Graduate Student Spotlight: Yang Liu Develops a New Method for Chemistry with “Roots” in Biology

Yang Liu in the lab. Photo provided by Yang Liu.
Yang Liu in the lab. Photo provided by Yang Liu.

Yang Liu (Salaita Group) is bringing new techniques to the emerging field of mechanobiology; at the same time, he’s returning to his roots.

Literally. As in, plants.

Yang’s father is an academic biologist studying agriculture in China.

“I think in the beginning, my dad really wanted me to be a biologist,” says Yang. “But normally kids don’t want to pursue the same career path as their parents.”

As an undergraduate in China, Yang started out studying mechanical engineering. Then, he attended a general chemistry lecture with a famous chemistry professor who made a convincing case for the importance of the discipline. “He said, ‘chemistry is the central science connecting physical sciences, life sciences and applied sciences all together,’’ says Yang. “And I was so fascinated by it. And I changed my major.”

At Emory, Yang joined the lab of Khalid Salaita. His research in the Salaita Group takes a novel approach to a common scientific question: how does the immune system recognizes and eliminates “invaders”, such as pathogens or cancer cells? Most research explores how chemical signals mediate this process. Yang’s work expands on existing work in the Salaita Group that focuses on mechanical signaling—the way that immune cells physically probe their targets within the body. “Cells can touch and apply forces to one another,” explains Yang, a process he refers to as a “handshake.” Yang’s research develops tools that allow scientists to “see” these kinds of physical interactions.

Gold nanoparticle (yellow) with elastic spring molecules (gray) bound to a fluorophore and ligand (black). When a ligand binds to a membrane receptor (cyan), the spring “pulls” and the fluorophore elicits a signal (bright white).
Gold nanoparticle (yellow) with elastic spring molecules (gray) bound to a fluorophore and ligand (black). When a ligand binds to a membrane receptor (cyan), the spring “pulls” and the fluorophore elicits a signal (bright white). Photo provided by Yang Liu.

Specifically, Yang has developed a technique named molecular tension fluorescence microscopy (MTFM) that employs single elastic molecules—DNA, protein, and polymer— as sensors to visualize membrane receptor mediated forces at the piconewton level. “One piconewton is the weight of one trillionth of an apple and surprisingly, pN forces regulate biochemical signaling pathways,” says Yang. These forces are too small for scientists to measure using conventional methods. Existing tools aren’t sensitive enough or they are inefficient.

“Until our method kicks in,” says Yang.

Yang has combined nanotechnology and the “easy” surface chemistry of gold nanoparticles to make MTFM probes more effective. “These gold particle sensors are spring scales at nanoscale ,” says Yang. “Compared to previous techniques, these probes are of significantly enhanced sensitivity, stability and amenable for detecting forces mediated by almost all kinds of cell receptors.”

The improvements have caught the attention of researchers in other Emory units—and even nationally and internationally. Yang has collaborated with the Evavold Lab in the Department of Immunology at Emory to help them measure mechanical forces mediated by different immune cells. He also has collaborators from as far away as New York and Germany.

Regarding these collaborations, Yang says: “The need to be trained [to use this method] is very high. The method is not hard, it’s easy. So people usually spend a few days and they should be able to master it…and we still maintain quite tight collaboration. We not only teach them how to make it, we actually get involved in the scientific questions they care about and continue this collaboration.”

Recently, Yang’s success in developing the new method was recognized with the department’s highest graduate student honor, the Quayle Outstanding Student Award. Speaking of Yang’s progress shortly after the award ceremony, advisor Khalid Salaita praised Yang’s work ethic as well as his science: “Yang was a real pleasure to have in the lab. He was incredibly thoughtful, well read, and intensely motivated. More than anyone else I’ve worked with, Yang displayed a keen instinct for experimental design. He spent countless hours in the dark microscope room collecting data and working around the clock fueled up with his favorite bbq Pringles and excited by the science.”

The award ceremony was followed swiftly by another milestone—a successful PhD defense. Next, Yang is headed to John’s Hopkins University where he will work in the lab of Dr. Taekjip Ha, a world leader in the development of single molecule fluorescence microscopy and force spectroscopy.

Salaita Group "Logo"
Salaita Group Logo

Yang’s pioneering research wasn’t always smooth sailing. “I didn’t get my first experiment done until the first semester of my third year. Everything before that didn’t work.” He credits his perseverance to his father’s example—“agriculture is even slower, waiting for the growth of plants. You can only do two experiments a year!”—as well as his own scientific curiosity. His advisor, Khalid Salaita, was also an inspiration throughout the process. “He is always passionate and ignited my love for science. You love it and you work hard to make something meaningful to the society and also make yourself valuable, so, that’s what I’d like to do and that’s because of these two people.”

Does all this mean that Yang has overcome his initial reluctance to follow in his father’s footsteps towards biology?

“I think I’m going back to the route, mining chemistry, biology. In the beginning I was against it, but I do like it.” Still, chemistry has his heart. “Chemists not only create new tools, new theories and new materials, but also create new opportunities. And if you want to study biology as a chemist, there are some advantages too because you can understand and explore the secret of life at the molecular level.”

Congratulations, Dr. Yun Zhang!

Yun Zhang. Photo provided by Yun Zhang.
Yun Zhang. Photo provided by Yun Zhang.

Yun Zhang successfully defended her thesis, “Development of DNA-based Molecular Tension Probes to Investigate Integrin Mechanical Forces” on Monday, July 18th, 2016. Yun’s thesis committee was led by Khalid Salaita with Brian Dyer and Stefan Lutz as additional members. Yun will stay on at Emory as a postdoctoral scholar in the Salaita Lab. In the fall, she will begin a position as the manager of an instrument center in the Department of Chemistry at Sichuan University in China.

Congratulations, Yun!