Chemists Bond with New Grad Students During Research Symposium

September 27, 2022
People looking at research posters in large hall

In a university steeped in tradition, the Department of Chemistry kicked off the academic year by welcoming the newest cohort of grad students during the much-anticipated annual Yale Chemistry Symposium (YCS) on Aug. 28.

The event, entirely organized by the 2nd-year class, featured student-guided tours, grad student research presentations, a faculty keynote speaker, awards ceremonies, grad student poster sessions, and dinner. This year, event co-chairs Olivia Langner and Katelyn Laughon led the charge of volunteers, consisting of the entire 2nd-year cohort and ten subcommittee chairs.

Incoming grad students spent the day orienting to buildings, facilities, and resources, picking up their new blue lab coats, and learning about the wide-ranging research conducted by the department. All this is to help them decide which chemistry area to study and which faculty lab to join as they pursue their Ph.D.

Keynote speaker Sarah Slavoff, Associate Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, welcomed the 1st-years sitting in the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory (SCL) lecture hall 160.

“Everyone is welcome here. YOU are also welcome here. We’re striving to create a safe and inclusive environment for all of you to learn to do your research and achieve your goals. And every single one of you is making important contributions to our program and the scientific enterprise that we value.”

-          Sarah Slavoff, Associate Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular Biophysics

Slavoff shared her path to chemistry, which lacked exposure to STEM as a young girl and shaped her conviction to break down barriers for the next generation.

“I learned to look at people’s stories to determine the systematic obstacles they face, the challenges that people continue to face, and make sure that we’re working hard to dismantle the obstacles for our students and trainees,” she said.

The big question that drives her work is, “do we know all the functional products that are encoded in human genomes?” As she gave a biology refresher, explaining the gene’s role in identifying cancer in the body, she recounted how she found her niche during her postdoctoral studies. When she realized there were thousands of completely unknown genes in the human genome, she developed the first analytical platform for using mass spectrometry peptide omics to discover them.

Today, her lab at Yale’s Institute of Biomolecular Design and Discovery, develops chemical and biological tools to study a cryptic class of human genomes called small open reading frames, some of which are critical regulators of cancer cell signaling pathways and inflammation. Their findings may lead to novel approaches to treating cancers.

During the symposium, faculty honored grad students with awards for excellence in teaching and research. Jon Ellman, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Pharmacology and director of Graduate Studies, announced the six T.F. Cooke Teaching Awards, Taylor Dover, Noah Gibson, Yangyi Liu, Michelle Moon, Kristian Olesen, and Ruiqi (Rachel) Yang. And Seth Herzon, Milton Harris ’29 Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry, presented the graduate research fellowship awards to Michael Burke, Duc M. Chu, Benjamin Groff, Alexander Hegg, Haotian (John) Huang, Jana Jelusic, Jaehoo Lee, Jessica J. Mohsen, Kristian Olesen, Thomas P. Regan, Soren D. Rozema, Anastasia Saar, Bo Shang, Santino Stropoli, Zhi Xu, and Jiayun Zhong.

Man talking into mic among large crowd in classroom

The audience then heard from seven upper-class graduate students representing research from each of the seven department chemistry areas: theoretical, inorganic, organic, physical, chemical biology, materials, and biophysical.

Mathew Chow, a graduate student studying theoretical chemistry in the Hammes-Schiffer Lab, discussed the Nuclear-Electronic Orbital (NEO) method and how it is being coupled to include the effects of complex chemical environments. Both implicit and explicit solvent modeling coupled with the NEO framework are being developed and will enable further studies into quantum dynamics, thermochemistry, as well as broad applications to biology.

Reagan Hooper, an inorganic chemistry grad student from the Holland Lab, spoke of her research on iron complexes of a sulfur-carbon-sulfur pincer ligand. Her work revealed that this ligand could impart a surprising cation sensitivity to iron’s electronic structure.

Nate Greenwood, an organic chemistry grad student from the Ellman Lab, shared his latest research on the application of catalytic enantioselective sulfur-alkylation to asymmetric sulfoximine synthesis. Sulfoximines, important in medicinal chemistry, are considered the rising stars in modern drug discovery for their versatility.

Anton Lachowicz, from the Johnson Lab, represented physical chemistry at Yale. He’s using cryogenic ion vibrational spectroscopy to explore cation-cation interactions in ionic liquids. During his presentation, he showed a machine diagram and its use of a Thermo Fisher Scientific Orbitrap on an ionic cluster. He is interested in photochemistry and kinetic studies. 

Valentina Rangel-Angarita is a physical chemistry PhD candidate in the Malaker Lab who analyzes mucin-domain glycoproteins using mass spectrometry. Rangel-Angarita’s research intends to find the glycopeptide protein sequence, glycan composition, and localization within these peptides. Their findings allow for the characterization of many mucins, and might help earlier detection of ovarian and other forms of cancer.

Ellie Stewart-Jones, a materials chemistry grad student from the Mayer Lab, explained the chemical reactivity of silicon-hydrogen (Si-H) bonds on porous silicon, a semiconducting material used in electronics and solar panels. Her research explores the thermodynamics and kinetics of breaking Si-H bonds on porous silicon.

Yangyi Liu, a biophysical chemistry student in the Zilm Lab, is interested in the drug-induced phase and conformational changes of the cellular prion protein as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, he uses a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer to look at how the PSCMA drug could modify the cellular prion protein molecule to achieve a pharmacological effect.

After an impressive show of research, the audience poured out of SCL 160 into the great hall, where posters lined the walls and 30 grad students eagerly stood by to show their findings. Small groups huddled to watch researchers’ fingers trace line graphs and sculpt imaginary shapes in the air to explain their study results.

It was, in a way, a grand recruitment event, each researcher promoting their chemistry lab while forming new connections.

The lively group then moved to the courtyard for dinner and conversation about academic life. It was at once evening and the dawn of a new day for 41 Chemistry grad students.

Thank you to student volunteers Andrew Champlin, Davis Chase, Joann Chongsaritsinsuk, Abbigayle Cuomo, Joseph Dickinson, Taylor Dover, Noah Gibson, Payten Harville, Olivia Langner (co-chair), Katelyn Laughon (co-chair), Sarah Lowery, Krystyna Maruszko, Marcus Vinicius Pinto Pereira Junior, Kristian Olesen, Sydney Shuster, Nicolò Tampellini, Bernie Wang, and Alexa Williams.

View the event photo gallery.