Ally Boyington works in the Jui Group at Emory, an organic chemistry lab focused on catalysis and drug discovery. The lab is located on the fourth floor of the new Atwood Addition that opened in 2015. Oversized hoods look out on giant windows with a view of Dowman Drive, Canon Chapel, and a glimpse of the grassy quad. Ally's work focuses on adding aryl radicals to olefins with the goal of improving the synthesis of common motifs in small molecule drug targets.
Mallory Green works four floors and a scientific world away. She and her lab mates in the Heaven Group on Atwood Hall's first floor affectionately refer to themselves as "the gremlins of the basement." Their ground floor location is integral to their science: the lack of windows prevents ambient light from interfering with their delicate lasers, and the stable foundation prevents the lasers from shaking, limiting inaccurate data collection.
Mallory points out the laser dye stains on the floor of the "basement." Laser dye allows chemists to use different wavelengths of light instead of being restricted to one of four primary wavelengths emitted by pump lasers. Spills happen, so the red floor was added in 2015 to help hide stain...and it does it a little too well!
Even knowing that, it can feel a little isolating. "Mallory does a great job of putting things in perspective for me when she reminds me that she’s in a windowless basement all day," jokes Ally.
A physical chemist, Mallory takes advantage of her unique space to research small beryllium molecules to better understand their fundamental bonding characteristics.
Her advisor, Dr. Michael Heaven, says that Mallory is "smart and outgoing and a delight to work with. She came to Emory with a background in computational chemistry but quickly adapted to experimental research. In addition to running a temperamental cluster of homemade instruments, she trains new students, participates in local area outreach, and is an overachieving volunteer during our recruitment drives."
Dr. Nathan Jui praises Ally for a comparable blend of research excellence and advocacy. “Ally is very smart, highly motivated, mature, compassionate, and very productive. She is an excellent researcher, a fantastic mentor to undergraduates and younger graduate students, and an avid advocate for women in science.”
Outside of the lab, this powerful duo has worked to revolutionize Pi Alpha Chemical Society, the Department of Chemistry's social and service organization for graduate students. Ally is the past Vice President of Marketing and Communication and current president. Mallory, who served as president of PACS in her first year at Emory, is the current Vice President of Social Affairs.
“I love science, but I also love serving people,” says Mallory. “I have adopted a sense of leadership through service.”
All chemistry graduate students are offered membership in PACS, but in their first year at Emory, Ally and Mallory noticed that participation could be uneven, with students dropping out of PACS activities as they advanced towards the degree. “I do my best lab work when I have something else to balance my time,” adds Ally. “It makes me a more well-rounded person.”
That awareness of the importance of balance throughout the journey to the PhD led Ally and Mallory to place improving advanced student involvement at the top of their to-do list. Their efforts to engage advanced students began with taking a critical look at the PACS leadership structure. The Executive Board was historically made up entirely of second year students. While this structure gave newer students the chance to hold leadership positions each year, it limited communication among students at different stages in their graduate careers.
In response, Mallory and Ally helped restructure the Executive Board to include more upper level students. Beyond just encouraging advanced students to stay involved in the program, this reorganization facilitated the sharing of perspectives and cross-class communication that had previously been lacking. The group widely publicized elections and created a revised constitution.
They also pushed for more visibility for the organization. Mallory led a logo contest and the student-designed winning logo was printed on PACS-branded mugs, drink koozies, and t-shirts. Ally was instrumental in creating a plan to better integrate PACS into department wide communication platforms to drive overall awareness and attendance.
With more participation, PACS has expanded its slate of events from year to year, all geared towards the dual purpose of propagating a passion for chemistry throughout the Atlanta community while strengthening relationships within the department. These events have included a graduate student cocktail party, volunteering at Piedmont Park and Zoo Atlanta, and a "Chemistry Carnival" as part of the Atlanta Science Festival. PACS also organizes two yearly "Chemmy" seminars that allow graduate students to invite the researchers they are most excited about to visit campus for a student-led seminar.
PACS is less the summation of Ally and Mallory's impact on the chemistry community than the jumping off point. Whether as the coordinator for a busy rotation season in the lab (Ally) or the voice beyond the lab Twitter account and website (Mallory), their impact is visible throughout the department. And their friendship is a big part of what makes that level of engagement possible.
"We’re often seen chatting in my office or on the second floor, and when faculty or staff come across us, we’re always told that we look like we’re 'up to something'," says Ally. "Sometimes we are planning the next PACS event or our plans to take over the world, but usually we’re just talking about food."
How did their friendship start?
"Ally says she has a specific story for when she knew we were going to be friends, but she won't tell me what it is," says Mallory. "I think it was when [chemistry librarian] Chris Doty came to talk to us at orientation but told us he wouldn't remember any of our names, so I announced to the entire room of my new colleagues that he could call me by my childhood nickname, Mal Mal Brown Cow, if that helped him remember. I don't think it helped him, but Ally tells me she'll never forget! I'm sharing this because I want it to be on the record if I guessed correctly."
"I’m not sure that there is much of a story," says Ally, "but during a library orientation the first week of grad school, she told the person leading the session that if they had a tough time remembering her name, that they could call her 'Mal Mal Brown Cow' because that’s what her mom calls her. She said it with such confidence and it made the whole room laugh."
On the record.
Learn more about PACS by visiting their website or Facebook page - and explore some of the other student groups shaping our scientific community, including SACNAS, NOBCChE @ Emory, the International Grad Students of Emory Chemistry, and AWIS.
Interested in joining Emory Chemistry and PACS? We are accepting applications to our graduate program now through December 1st. No GRE scores required! For more information, visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply.
Behind the Scenes: Meet Amy Solinski
Amy Solinski is a graduate chemistry in the Wuest Group at Emory working on developing small molecules that specifically inhibit biofilm, a pesky bacterial growth that is notoriously harder to treat with antibiotics. She is also a photographer and all of the photography in this piece is her original work (unless otherwise credited.)
Like Ally and Mallory, Amy is a student leader, mentoring other graduate students in the lab and planning outreach programming for elementary and middle schools in underprivileged areas.
When she isn't in the lab or behind a camera, Amy loves to spend time with friends and family. She has started to learn to cook, including making fresh homemade pasta. But most of all she enjoys playing Catan with her housemates, even though she is currently last in the 2018 tournament.
Follow her on Twitter @amysolinski.