The Department of Chemistry at Emory University is pleased to welcome Bill Wuest to our faculty beginning in June 2017. Dr. Wuest joins Emory from Temple University where he was Daniel Swern Early Career Professor of Chemistry. At Emory, he will be the first Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Distinguished Investigator in Emory College of Arts and Sciences. He will be joined at Emory by six graduate students–Erika Csatary, Colleen Keohane, Kelly Morrison, Sean Rossiter, Amy Solinski, Andrew Steele–and postdoc Sara Zahim.
Bill was born in Centereach, NY in 1981. He received his B.S. magna cum laude in Chemistry/Business from the University of Notre Dame in 2003. As an undergraduate, he investigated intramolecular hydroamination reactions under the tutelage of Professor Paul Helquist. Bill then moved to Philadelphia, PA to begin his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania working with Professor Amos B. Smith, III. His graduate work focused on both the total synthesis of peloruside A and the development of Anion Relay Chemistry (ARC) culminating with a Ph.D. in 2008. Bill then traveled to Harvard Medical School as a Ruth Kirschstein-NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Professor Christopher T. Walsh, where he investigated unusual enzymatic transformations in the construction of non-ribosomal peptide natural products.
In July of 2011, Bill began his independent career as an Assistant Professor at Temple University. His research focuses on the development of chemical tools to better understand bacteria with a specific focus on anti-virulence targets and narrow-spectrum therapeutics. He is also a member of the Molecular Therapeutics Division of Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Scientific Founder of NovaLyse BioSolutions, which seeks to commercialize the QAC technology developed in collaboration with the Minbiole Group at Villanova University. Bill is the recipient of a number of awards including the NIH ESI Maximizing Investigators Research Award (MIRA), NSF CAREER Award, the Young Investigator Award from the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University, the New Investigator Award from the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation, the Thieme Journal of Chemistry Award, and the Italia-Eire Foundation Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award from the College of Science and Technology at Temple University.
Bill is an avid sports fan, with allegiances to the NY Yankees, NY Giants, and his alma mater, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Outside the lab he enjoys spending time with his wife, Liesl, and son, Max.
Early mentoring experiences solidified Sunidhi Ramesh’s desire to pursue a career in medicine.
“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was four,” she explains. That was the age when she started accompanying her favorite uncle on visits to his medical practice in a small, rural village in India. Her uncle’s clinic “was so different from any clinic or hospital that you would see here. It was quiet, and he was often the only person working there.” In that small space, she saw her uncle having a big impact.
“He used to give out free medicine. If he had patients who were homeless, he wouldn’t charge them. It was a very humbling process. He would be tired at the end of the day, but he’d be happy. I noticed that really quickly.”
Sunidhi’s interest in medicine eventually led her to the strong STEM programs at Emory. As a first year student, she struggled with time management—understandable considering she was involved in an array of activities, from writing for The Wheel to performing on a Bollywood dance team. Attending Chem Mentor tutoring sessions helped her to slow down and learn to budget her time.
“Chem Mentors kind of forced me to sit down and say, ‘Okay, these two hours are just for chemistry problems.’ I could figure out what I was comfortable with and what I wasn’t comfortable with and study from there. It gave me a baseline,” says Sunidhi.
Now, Sunidhi—a double major in Neuroscience and Sociology—is a Chem Mentor, helping other students to enhance their experience in Chem 141 and 142.
Chem Mentors are upper level students who provide weekly tutoring sessions to students enrolled in “Gen Chem.” Students who apply to be mentors must have completed Gen Chem classes at Emory with a grade of A- or better and are required to submit a reference from an Emory professor. Selected students undergo training and are also required to attend Gen Chem class sessions—helping to refresh their content knowledge and allowing them to serve as an in-class resource to students taking the class for the first time.
The tutoring sessions are the heart of the program, giving Chem Mentors responsibility for their peers’ learning. Mentors must develop their own approach to the material and lead sessions independently. Sunidhi says that one of the challenges is finding ways to help students who have different levels of comfort with the material under review. She’s learned not to make assumptions about what students already know; when students do show mastery, she will often keep them engaged by asking them to teach the material to others who are struggling. Her own experience with Chem Mentors has showed her that teaching material can help to solidify complex concepts even for students who have a firm grasp on course content.
“You benefit from teaching someone and learning how to explain the problem and someone else benefits from hearing it from another person,” she says.
The challenges from the program have given her a new respect for the professors who deal with these kinds of issues every day. “I’m a lot more sympathetic with professors now!”
At the same time, Sunidhi and her fellow Chem Mentors are able to use their role to help other students feel more comfortable with their professors. “Sometimes students aren’t as comfortable going to [the faculty] with questions. During our sessions, they come to us and we try to refer them to their professors to make them more comfortable with going to office hours; first years, especially, are very anxious. They think they can’t go to office hours unless they have a good question to ask.”
Director of Undergraduate Studies Dr. Doug Mulford praises Sunidhi’s commitment. “Sunidhi has been a model mentor helping countless students understand the material in Chemistry 141 and 142. She relates to them as one who has been there herself.” Dr. Tracy McGill adds: “The Chem Mentors themselves are what make the program so outstanding. Having a peer who has succeeded in the course earlier and can model tenacity, patience, and a methodical approach to breaking down a complex problem is invaluable to our students’ success.”
Sunidhi’s commitment to mentoring extends beyond chemistry. She mentors high school students through Emory Pipeline, a program that seeks to build awareness of STEM careers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and she has also served as an Orientation Leader twice. “I think it’s a rewarding experience to be a mentor in general,” she says. “You get to see things from a different perspective.”
With Chem Mentors, Sunidhi is often pleasantly surprised by what she has retained from Gen Chem. “Sometimes I’m surprised that I still remember how to do the problem! I think those kinds of surprises combined with the reward of having to teach a class and seeing students have that ‘a-ha’ moment where they realize how a concept works—those are the rewards that line up and make it a good program.”
Maybe some of Sunidhi’s drive to mentor others comes from her own experience finding her way. “We kind of had to Guinea pig our way through everything,” she says, describing the way that she and her family have approached her goal of being a doctor. Both of her parents are immigrants from India and she is the oldest child, trying to forge a path through a very different educational system. As she’s progressed—and continued to teach others—that path has become more and more clear.
“I don’t know anything else I can do,” she says. “Medicine is what I love.”
Interested in being a ChemMentor? Applications for the 2016-2017 school year will be accepted this coming Spring. Students who have earned an A or A- in their chemistry courses are eligible to apply. Selected mentors are required to enroll in Chem 392R, the Chem Mentor training course. Dr. Tracy McGill says: “Chem Mentors is an exciting opportunity for undergraduate students to develop their leadership skills, work with their peers, deepen their understanding of chemistry concepts, and build relationships with faculty mentors.” Contact Dr. McGill or Dr. Mulford with questions.
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.
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.
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.”
When Chris Curfman (00G) entered Emory, he could not have imagined where he would end up two decades later. After completing a PhD in chemistry, Chris shifted his focus away from academic research to pursue a career in intellectual property law. Since then, he has been named a Georgia Super Lawyers “Rising Star” by Atlanta Magazine and became a founding member of Meunier Carlin & Curfman, which has since evolved into one of the largest intellectual property firms in the Southeast. In a climate where more PhD students pursue careers outside the professoriate, Chris’ story is an inspiration. “While we are all united by our intellectual curiosity and our love of science, this common drive can diverge into various fulfilling careers,” says Chris. From his trials and triumph with his research at Emory to his self-discovery and transformation into the rising star that he is today, Chris has accumulated a vast wealth of memories and insight, which is highlighted in this edition of Alumni Spotlight.
During graduate school, Chris joined the lab of Dennis C. Liotta, who would have a profound impact on his trajectory. Chris undertook a particularly difficult thesis project working with sphingolipid analogs. The process of constantly overcoming challenges instilled in him the crucial lifelong value of perseverance that would later prove pivotal outside of the lab. This determination was also critical in prevailing over another personal challenge. While Chris had always fostered a passion for teaching, he grappled with a fear of public speaking. As one of the graduate qualification exams, he was required to present his research in front of the entire Department of Chemistry student body. He recalls that he would “enter the conference room when it was empty and practice over and over again.” He went on to deliver a successful talk. Invigorated by this positive experience and his innate passion for teaching, Chris began to actively seek out opportunities for public speaking, which paved his way to standing on the podium of Emory law school as an adjunct professor.
Nonetheless, Chris’s time at Emory was not “all work and no play.” Chris has fond memories of his time as the president of the Pi Alpha Chemical Society. He recalls organizing graduate events, such as movie nights and picnics, to promote social interaction and collaboration amongst graduate students. To him, “It was a fun and great environment. It was a place where you could set aside the work and just talk and socialize.”
During Chris’ last year of graduate school, his advisor began to take notice of his skill at technical writing and public speaking, as well as his proficient interpersonal skills. Realizing that Chris’ skill set complemented the profession of patent law, Liotta catalyzed Chris’ foray into the world of patent law by inviting him to events where he could network with established lawyers. It was at one of these events that Chris had a fateful meeting leading to an interview offer. That was an electrifying time in Chris’ life. Within the span of that final summer in graduate school, Chris managed to simultaneously complete 3 milestones: defending his PhD, gaining acceptance into law school, and receiving a job offer working in a law firm.
After Chris completed his J.D. at Georgia State University, he practiced several years at a small intellectual property firm. However, that firm was acquired by a much larger general practice and Chris found himself at a crossroads. Chris felt that the large firm business model did not align with his own passions and goals. Chris wanted to retain the close relationships with his clients and have the opportunity to devote more time and attention to their needs, yet he found this more difficult in a large general practice firm. It was at this pivotal moment that Chris received a life-changing phone call from a former colleague who shared a similar vision. That initial conversation ultimately blossomed into a group of eight like-minded patent lawyers who pooled together their resources and brought their vision to a new company. When asked about his emotions at this time, Chris said, “this was both a thrilling and terrifying period in my life. I had to invest everything I had into this venture, including putting my life savings on the line, but I could finally do what I had originally set out to do.” At long last, he had the autonomy to become the champion he had dreamed of becoming for clients who must navigate the treacherous waters of patent law.
It has been nearly two decades since Chris made that decision to transition from lab work to law, but all the lessons he learned during graduate school still serve him well today. Chris says that he finds his current profession to be fulfilling and fun, and he feels fortunate to be involved in a career that allows him to intersect science with people, especially being in a position to be able to help others achieve their goals. When asked what words of advice he would give to current graduate students, he implored encouraged them to “never give up, finish their Ph.D., practice public speaking and effective writing, and network whenever you can.” Chris’ journey serves as an inspiration for the next generation of students looking to apply their doctoral studies to broader society.
Yuan Chang is currently a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Khalid Salaita. She entered Emory in 2011 and has been studying live cell tension using molecular tension fluorescent microscopy (MTFM).
If Chen Liang (Lynn Group) sees a problem in need of a solution, she’ll create one. In Fall 2012, not long after moving to Atlanta from China to start graduate school, Chen volunteered with refugee families in Clarkston, GA and was struck by the challenges that children and their families were facing. “I was shocked to see children a couple of miles from me are living without matching shoes and suffering from hunger.”
Chen knew what the solution needed to be—“The best way to change the life of an under-served child is through education,” she explains. That insight led Chen to enlist the support of Barbara Coble in Emory’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership. Dr. Coble was already running a program—Graduation Generation—focused on outreach to under-served students in Atlanta public schools. Together, they created the Student Educational Experience Program (SEED), to provide those same students with greater access to science education, including tutoring, workshops, and information on science careers and higher education.
The partnership with Dr. Coble got Project SEED off the ground, but there were still plenty of logistics to be worked out. “I started cold-calling many presidents of other clubs to learn their funding process and how to write a charter. I also spread my idea around the chemistry department and my friends and successfully convinced some to join SEED.” The majority of SEED’s original members are from the Department of Chemistry, although the program now includes students and faculty from biology and physics, among others.
Barbara Coble praises Chen for her commitment and vision. “Chen is an outstanding community engagement practitioner with a uniquely humble, yet fiercely determined spirit. She works diligently to connect Emory students and university resources to these students.” Reflecting on her experiences working with Dr. Coble, Chen echoes that same praise. “When I had the idea of SEED, I brought it to her and she liked it and helped a lot during the founding process. Dr. Coble never gives up. Her persistency and upbeat spirit encourages me a lot when things get rough for SEED.”
Part of the brilliance of Project SEED’s design is that it draws on the impressive scientific resources Emory already has in place—particularly the expertise of its students. “We would all reach out to different clubs and professors, share SEED’s mission, and ask them to give students one hour sessions on various subjects,” explains Chen. Over time, SEED participants from Emory have built relationships with the students they serve, particularly students from Atlanta’s Maynard Jackson High School.
Deeabe* is one of those students. She recently joined SOAR, a branch of SEED led by undergraduate Lexy Dantzler that connects students with research experiences in Emory labs, and started working on research in the lab of Dr. Meleah Hickman in the Department of Biology. “Deeabe’s family is not wealthy and her mom had breast cancer a couple of years ago. Despite the family situation, she is driven and hardworking,” says Chen. “She has received a scholarship from Pearls of Purpose and will be attending Georgia State this fall. That’s what I want SEED to be—an extra hand to help these students achieve their dreams.”
Despite Project SEED’s remarkable scope, it is far from Chen’s only contribution during her time at Emory. She has also served as a Student Ambassador for the Laney Graduate School, working to connect Emory students with professional development resources.
“Chen organized a fantastic program with the co-founder and CEO of Oystir, Rudy Bellani, who presented via Skype to a large group of students about what employers are looking for from STEM PhDs. Chen has always been a reliable source of ideas and feedback for the LGS as she is committed to her own academic and professional success as well as the success of her colleagues and future LGS students,” says Sarah Peterson, Laney’s Assistant Program Director for LGS Career Resources.
Chen also led an initiative to better connect science PhDs with career opportunities in consulting. Once again, the project stemmed from her recognition of an unfulfilled need—she saw that consulting firms that recruited at Emory focused largely on the professional schools, such as Rollins or Goizueta, despite the availability of PhDs with broad training in science and health issues. Chen took on the presidency of Emory’s dormant Advanced Degree Consulting Club (ADCC), reviving and expanding the organization and reaching out to consulting firms. Now, several of those firms regularly recruit from Emory’s talented pool of science PhDs and ADCC has rich resources to help PhDs pursue a career in consulting.
How does Chen balance these many outreach accomplishments with her research work? A lot of it comes down to time management. “I have learned to plan my day down to every hour,” says Chen. “Sometimes, I have to work twelve hours a day or work on weekends to fulfill requirements from both sides; but in general, my research and extracurricular work complement each other. The achievement from SEED energizes me and motivates me to excel in research; my TA and research experience, as well as my network in academia helps me improve SEED as a program.”
It also helps to have a supportive research advisor in Dr. David Lynn. “Chen is a remarkably passionate and caring individual, committed to making a difference with her research and through her ability to contribute to the education of others,” says Dr. Lynn. “Her community outreach to young Atlanta children through SEED is changing her colleagues and our faculty. One of my entire classes for Emory 1st year college students was built on the outreach infrastructure she helped develop. Chen has already created a powerful and lasting mark on her Atlanta community and has the potential to change our world at a time when her compassion for humanity is so much in need.”
Even in Chen’s research, her desire to explore what’s missing and maximize her understanding of what is possible is apparent. (Click here to read more about Chen’s research!) Her research seeks to contribute to the search for more effective therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease by exploring amyloid proteins, hypothesized to cause the progression of the disease. Her work on amyloids resulted in a first author paper in JACS in 2014. After she completes the PhD at Emory, Chen plans to draw on her training to contribute broadly to the field of life science and education. Project SEED, shored up by her hard work, will continue after Chen graduates. “One of the biggest challenges ahead for SEED will be to fill Chen’s shoes, as the President, when she graduates,” says Dr. Coble.
*The student’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
Brian Hays (Widicus Weaver Group) is honest when asked what it was like to write his dissertation. “The dissertation writing process was grueling,” he says. “I rewrote it several times and stayed up all night for many nights.” Developing the dissertation project was also a challenge. “There were a lot of challenges to getting the PhD, many of them experimental. Usually they involved something that had never been experienced before in the lab, and we would have to learn a new skill and apply it immediately to research.”
That hard work paid off. Brian successfully defended his thesis in April 2015 and in May 2016 he was announced as the winner of the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Dissertation Award for 2016. The award is intended to promote the emerging discipline of Astrochemistry within the PHYS Division of the ACS by recognizing an outstanding recent Ph.D. thesis submitted by an Astrochemistry Subdivision member. Brian will receive a $500 award and will give an invited presentation at the August 2016 ACS Meeting in Philadelphia.
Speaking to Brian, it’s clear that hard work and challenges on the road to the dissertation were met with a spirit of discovery and determination. “It was always very exciting to dive into something new [ . . . ] I was looking forward to building an experiment from scratch.” “Something new” for Brian included the development of novel spectroscopic methods that increased scanning speed by almost 100 times, leading to faster results. Mentoring support from advisor Susanna Widicus Weaver also made the journey towards the PhD easier. “Susanna was the person at Emory who most helped me towards getting the PhD,” says Brian. “Her mentoring and support is very important to me.”
The award-winning research that resulted is “primarily concerned with making and examining unstable molecules that may lead to prebiotic molecules in space.” The research relies on spectroscopic techniques that allow scientists to compare the results of an experiment to astronomical observations of star forming regions. “[We] see if we can make a molecule in the lab and detect it in space,” explains Brian. These techniques allow scientists to make informed observations about far-away regions of space from within the confines of the lab. For Brian, that didn’t completely rule out travel to places far, far away. He took advantage of Professional Development Support funds from the Laney Graduate School to perform astronomical observations in Hawaii.
Currently, Brian is a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue in the lab of Tim Zwier working on chirped pulse microwave spectroscopy. As in the PhD, Brian is seeking new capacities for existing tools “building up [Zwier’s] current instrument towards including mass spectrometry and towards new double resonance techniques.” Their next project will look at processes related to Titan’s atmosphere using these new techniques.
A theme of Brian’s dissertation and postdoctoral work seems to be the excitement he finds in new experiences, techniques, and questions. What does he find most exciting about what’s new and next for the field of astrochemistry? “I am most excited about the proliferation of rotational spectroscopy to more experiments in physical chemistry. This allows for a very high resolution picture of molecules that is state dependent and can be applied in a wide variety of experiments now, including those of astrophysical interest.”
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.”
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.”
In the race Tony is running, the stakes are high—seeking future treatments for HIV that address concerns about cost, side effects, and drug resistance seen with currently available drugs.
Specifically, Tony’s focus is on increasing the potency of a compound he designed that has the potential to offer a more robust treatment for HIV. The disease attacks initially by fusing with two receptors—CCR5 and CXCR4—on human cells. Currently available treatments have been shown to be effective at blocking HIV entry in one or the other of these proteins. This new compound shows the ability to block HIV entry in both. Additionally, the compounds have activity against HIV reverse transcriptase an anti-HIV target post cellular entry.
“We suspect compounds with “activities” against both receptors will be more effective,” says Tony. Perhaps more importantly, this compound focuses in on the “human machinery” rather than the disease itself. “HIV mutates very quickly,” explains Tony, “and because it mutates very quickly it develops resistance to viral targets very quickly. Whereas, if you target the human machinery, which essentially doesn’t mutate, HIV drug resistance should arise much slower. ”
The proposed treatment also targets another major factor that can make HIV difficult to treat—cost. “Fewer than half of the people with HIV in America are actually on treatment,” says Tony. “It’s expensive and has side effects—that’s what keeps people from seeking treatment.” He initially sought a compound that could target both CCR5 and CXCR4 for this reason: “if you target multiple things, [patients] can take fewer drugs” reducing cost and the potential for side effects.
At the AAAS meeting in Washington, D.C. where Tony won his poster prize, he also had the opportunity to share his research with a multidisciplinary audience. AAAS brings together clinicians, scientists, and physicians working in medicine and public health. Tony describes the vibrant meeting as “almost an endurance contest,” a challenging but welcome opportunity to “learn more about policy and make connections with people completely outside my field.
Tony’s trip was made possible by support from Emory’s Professional Development Support (PDS) program, which provides up to $2,500 for conference travel over a student’s Emory career. Tony’s work at Emory is supported by a Robert W. Woodruff Fellowship, Emory’s most competitive internal fellowship for entering PhD students, as well as an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
As evidenced by his win at the Three-Minute Thesis competition, part of what makes Tony’s research so powerful is his ability to tell stories about his science. He has a way of making the smallest details part of a bigger narrative picture, for instance, when he talks about teaching the undergraduates he mentors how to fold filter paper: “Most people fold it once, but I’ve learned to do an accordion fold, which drains like sixteen times faster! It’s such a small thing, but when I explain it to students, it affects their work flow for the rest of their science career.”
Mentoring students and collaborating with fellow grad students and postdocs is central to Tony’s approach. “Even [if] they aren’t specifically on my project, it’s an important part of my design protocol—having someone to bounce these ideas off of.”
Dr. Liotta praises Tony’s research as well as his collegial spirit:
“When he started at Emory, Tony already had substantial research experience,” says his research mentor, Dennis C. Liotta. “During his time here, he has grown tremendously in both an intellectual and professional sense. He is an excellent experimentalist, a fine speaker and an outstanding mentor to the undergraduate students who work with him. He’s made very important contributions to three of the major projects that are ongoing in our lab. We’re very fortunate to have him in our program.”
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.