Congratulations, Dr. Eric Miller!

The Emory University Department of Chemistry congratulates Dr. Eric James Miller on successfully defending his thesis, “Part 1. Discovery of a Fluorinated Enigmol Analog with Enhanced Pharmacokinetic and Anti-Tumor Properties” and “Part 2. Preferential Activation of Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 3 over Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 2.”

Dr. Miller’s committee was led by Dennis Liotta with Simon Blakey and David Lynn as additional members.

Congratulations, Eric!

Emory Undergraduates Study Chemistry in Italy

Studies in Siena
Students pose in front of a Siena landmark


A group of Emory undergraduates are currently taking part in the Summer in Siena study abroad program. In addition to completing chemistry coursework, the students are learning about topics such as the chemistry of winemaking and the chemistry behind historical preservation. The trip is led by Emory faculty Mike McCormick and Simon Blakey.

Dr. Blakey says:

Touring the Novartis research facility in Siena
Touring the Novartis research facility in Siena

“Today our students joined a group of chemistry students from UniSi and visited the Novartis Vaccines R&D site in Siena. We had lectures overviewing the historical importance and current trends in vaccination science, as well as a lecture on glyco-conjucate chemistry and the next generation of vaccines emerging. Novartis treated us to lunch in their cafeteria (a converted 16th century Villa), and we then toured a small part of the Flu Vaccine Production Facility (strictly outside the GMP areas of course). Thanks to Novartis for a fascinating day and for being such great hosts.”

Stay tuned for more adventures in Italy! Current Emory undergrads can apply for this unique program during the 2014-2015 school year for summer 2015.

Student Spotlight: Carolyn Cohen

Carolyn Cohen. Photo provided by Carolyn Cohen.
Carolyn Cohen. Photo provided by Carolyn Cohen.

Carolyn Cohen’s (EC ’14) has been awarded a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. 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. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is one of the most prestigious awards available to young scholars in the sciences.

Carolyn’s NSF award is the capstone to an undergraduate career in chemistry that is notable both for its breadth and depth, leading her to explore chemical concepts in the lab, the classroom…and even in Siena, Italy. In summer 2012, Carolyn travelled to Italy as part of the popular Summer Studies in Siena, Italy program. Carolyn took advantage of the summer program because it allowed her to fit travel abroad between busy semesters as a chemistry major and member of the Emory Women’s Swimming Team. She returned home with a deeper appreciation and understanding of Italian culture and of chemistry, ready to put her new knowledge to work doing organic synthesis research. In addition to exploring Italy through the lens of chemistry, Carolyn found that her summer in Italy helped her to build strong mentoring relationships with chemistry faculty, especially Simon Blakey.

Speaking of Carolyn’s achievements, Blakey praised Carolyn’s ability to quickly grasp difficult concepts and her patience when teaching others. “Carolyn exhibits a command of the chemical literature, a strong work ethic, and dedication in the laboratory,” said Blakey. “What amazes those of us who have come to know Carolyn as a remarkable Emory citizen is the fact that she has repeated this commitment, dedication, and excellence in many different environments.”

This includes the language classroom-last year, Carolyn received the Reppard Greek medal, the top prize in the Classics department. Carolyn serves as an ePass tutor for Greek and Latin, further evidence of her ability not only to master difficult concepts but to teach them to others effectively. Her willingness to teach is also evident in her weekly commitment to coaching special needs swimmers, a project that led her to attend the 2013 Georgia Summer Special Olympics to support swimmers in the program.

A Clare Booth Luce Research Scholar, Carolyn completed undergraduate research in the Davies Group at Emory and under the direction of Brian Stoltz at CalTech, both leaders in the field in C-H Functionalization. Huw Davies praised her abilities in the laboratory: “Carolyn is an exceptional student.  She is quiet, steady, and focused.  She is already performing at the level of a graduate student and I expect great things from her as she continues her research career.” Luce Fellowships are intended to encourage women pursuing careers in research and the physical sciences. To that end, Carolyn attends a mentoring group with other Luce scholars under the direction of graduate student Caitlin Davis (Dyer Group). Their support was integral in helping her to craft a successful NSF proposal.

Carolyn will apply her NSF award to graduate study in chemistry with an eye towards pursuing a research career in the pharmaceutical industry. She has recently accepted an offer of admission from Stanford University.

Student Spotlight: Matthew Birnbaum

Matthew Birnbaum. Photo provided by Matthew Birnbaum.
Matthew Birnbaum. Photo provided by Matthew Birnbaum.

As a kid, Matthew Birnbaum (EC ’13) wanted to be a wizard. He sought out ancient tomes that could teach how to make cloth impervious to the elements, potions that could turn a man into a pheasant, and staves that could erupt flames from the tip. But in his senior year of college, Birnbaum realized that Emory University does not offer the same majors as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Instead he exchanged a wizard’s robes for a flameproof lab coat, magical staffs for Bunsen burners, and ancient tomes for, well, textbooks. Birnbaum has replaced his quest for that more arcane magic with the modern science of chemistry.

Birnbaum first became excited by chemistry in the course students affectionately call “sophomore orgo.” Before, learning periodic trends was nothing more than an exercise in memorization and understanding hybridization was just mental gymnastics assigned by general chemistry professors to torture freshman pre-meds. Now, the applications became clear as electron affinity explained the strength of leaving groups and chiral centers led to molecules with differing geometries.

Birnbaum approached his professor Simon Blakey and asked what he could do to learn more about chemical synthesis. The next week, Birnbaum found himself in front of a fume hood, assigned to his own research project and learning techniques from the graduate students in Blakey’s lab.

His first research project was the fragment construction for the bottom-up synthesis of functionalized graphene nanoribbons. “I know, it’s a mouthful,” he jests. His goal was to make a graphene nanoribbon, a single layer of graphite with the unique properties of conductivity, flexibility, and transparency. The ribbon could be used in touch screen electronics, solar panels, and electronic-integrated clothing.

During the summer preceding his Junior year, Birnbaum pushed his project by participating in Emory’s undergraduate research programs: Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory (SIRE) and the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). SIRE awarded Birnbaum a grant to pay for his chemicals while SURE provided a stipend and ethics training. In order to explore all facets of research, he joined the staff of the Emory Undergraduate Research Journal where he served as co-editor in chief with applied math major Emma Accorsi.

Birnbaum went on to represent Emory University in the Creativity in the Arts and Science Event at the University of Florida and the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Weber State University, Utah. “Research has exposed me to scientific discovery, but I have also befriended other undergraduate scientists from other universities through the Emory summer programs and conferences,” Birnbaum says. His involvement in Emory programs and advocacy led to him being awarded the William Jones Scholarship for outstanding chemistry juniors.

When Birnbaum’s bioorganic professor Dr. Emily Weinert drew the mechanism for the inhibition of a cysteine protease by an epoxide, Birnbaum understood how small molecules manipulate enzyme function. He knew that he had learned the skills necessary to synthesize molecules that influence bodily functions.

In summer 2012, Birnbaum participated in an internship synthesizing small molecules aimed to cure Hepatitis C in Dr. Raymond F. Schinazi’s laboratories. There, he learned how a multidisciplinary laboratory focuses on translational research to discover new medications and treatments.

For his senior year honors thesis, Birnbaum conducted research in the radiology department synthesizing radiolabeled molecules for PET scan probing under the mentorship of Dr. Mark Goodman. This project furthered his education in the applications of chemistry in the realm of medical sciences.

Leg of frog, eye of newt, and spleen of pig has been replaced by benzyl bromide, sodium hydride, and ribose. Birnbaum may not make the polymorph potions of Harry Potter, but at the end of the quest known as undergraduate chemistry, he has learned to brew elixirs for a modern age. Following his 2013 graduation, Birnbaum began a dual MD/PhD degree in order to integrate medicinal chemistry with clinical practice. He says, “Chemistry found me and exposed me to a world I cannot see. Manipulating the invisible to benefit others is something that I had never dreamed could be possible.”

Blakey Receives NSF CAREER Award

Congratulations to Simon Blakey , receipient of a 2009 NSF CAREER award for outstanding young investigators. From the NSF website:

CAREER: The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from junior faculty members at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.