The Department of Chemistry is celebrating the arrival of six new faculty—with a seventh faculty member starting her first academic year after joining Emory in January 2020. These exciting scholars bring research and pedagogical excellence in multiple chemistry disciplines to our campus, adding vibrancy to our intellectual community.
In a "normal" semester, we would gather our new faculty together to take photos and celebrate their arrival. In light of social distancing, the department commissioned David Laws III, an artist and graduate scholar in the Blakey Group, to create digital portraits of our new colleagues.
While we look forward to welcoming—and photographing—these faculty in person, a creative virtual welcome feels appropriate in a semester when all of our faculty are rising to the challenge of crafting classroom and research experiences customized for virtual platforms.
Please join us in welcoming our new faculty!
Katherine M. Davis
"MAKING METALLOENZYME MOVIES"
M.S./Ph.D. Purdue University (Physics, Pushkar Group)
B.S. University of Louisville, Kentucky (Physics, Math)
Katherine M. "Kate" Davis joined the Emory faculty in January 2020, but this fall marks her first full academic year on campus. In the six months since she joined Emory, Kate has built a thriving research group, despite the unusual challenge of pivoting to virtual learning and low density research in response to COVID-19. This is in part due to the interdisciplinary nature of work in the Davis Lab and Kate's welcoming message to graduate students who are willing to dive in and learn: "You could come from any sort of experience or background and have something to contribute."
Graduate scholar Kendra Ireland describes the impact of this approach: "Kate gives us the freedom to conduct our own research how we see fit while also providing us with support—we know she’s there to help if we need her."
"Kate gives us the freedom to conduct our own research how we see fit while also providing us with support - we know she’s there to help if we need her."
Kate joined Emory following postdoctoral training experiences at both Princeton and Penn State. She initially joined the group of Prof. Nozomi Ando (Princeton) for an introduction to structural enzymology, before transferring to work jointly in the labs of Prof. John T. Groves (Princeton) and Prof. Amie Boal (Penn State). Kate’s work in the Groves lab combined her spectroscopic and crystallographic experience to characterize heme enzymes and their synthetic analogs. In the Boal lab, she endeavored to elucidate the structural basis for the diverse functionality inherent to Fe/2OG-dependent enzymes.
Kate’s current research interests lie in developing and improving physical methods for decoding biomacromolecular structure and function, particularly as they apply to solving problems relevant for human health and medicine. "My research creates a new way to watch biological systems react and that could impact all sorts of fields—medicine, energy, anything that has proteins and the chemical aspects of seeing what’s happening while you’re watching."
John Heemstra, Jr.
"BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS BETWEEN CHEMISTRY TOPICS"
Ph.D. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Chemistry, Denmark Group)
B.A. North Central College (Chemistry)
John Heemstra, Jr. is new to the title of senior lecturer, but not to being an outstanding teacher at Emory. John has served as an instructor in multiple chemistry courses at Emory since 2017. During this time, he was a major contributor to the development of CHEM 204, a foundational course in the Chemistry Unbound curriculum. John will continue to apply his pedagogical expertise both to creating an excellent classroom experience for undergraduates and to developing the new curriculum. This semester, he will teach four sections of CHEM 203: Advanced Reactivity.
Prior to joining Emory, John was a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard Medical School under the direction of Dr. Chris T. Walsh and an instructor at the University of Utah, where he was honored with the University of Utah Early Career Teaching Award for distinction in teaching and curricular innovation. He has also worked as a research scientist at Obiter Research (Champaign, IL) and Symbion Discovery (Salt Lake City, UT), leaving him well-prepared to advise Chemistry Unbound majors on a wide range of career pathways.
"I think he has an air of mystery that students find endearing."
Despite his accomplishments, John claims: "I'm a pretty boring person." His colleagues, instead, view him as dedicated, pedagogically innovative, and perhaps just a little mysterious. "I think he has an air of mystery that students find endearing," says fellow lecturer Antonio Brathwaite.
"MY FAVORITE THINGS: SYNTHESIZING MOLECULES AND NEW CHEMISTS"
Ph.D. Purdue University (Inorganic Chemistry, Rothwell Group)
B.S. Grove City College (Chemistry)
Richard Himes joins Emory from the College of Charleston where he was an instructor of chemistry and biochemistry. In addition to teaching in Charleston, Richard was involved with a biotech startup and mentored undergraduate students in research as part of the company. He looks forward to engaging Emory students in science entrepreneurship.
In the classroom, students will benefit from Richard's diverse perspective. "I bounced around a lot growing up and during school: Philadelphia, Virginia Beach, southern California, Indiana, Baltimore, South Carolina, and even Spain. I’ve done the same thing with my chem career. I’ve studied and/or taught general chem, inorganic chem, organic, bioinorganic, organometallics, medicinal chemistry. If it’s interesting, I’ll do it." Encouraging students in turn to follow their interests and foster an enthusiasm for learning is key to Richard's approach and dovetails well with the goals of Emory's Chemistry Unbound curriculum.
"Work hard, not stressed. But I know that’s easy for me to say, hard for them to do, so I’ll do what I can to help!"
In building a classroom environment, Richard aims to keep students relaxed, engaged, and enjoying their learning experience. "Work hard, not stressed," is his motto. "But I know that’s easy for me to say, hard for them to do, so I’ll do what I can to help!" This semester, students will have the opportunity to experience Richard's teaching style in CHEM 150: Structure and Properties.
In addition to starting a new teaching position at Emory, Richard has embarked on a new personal adventure. "My wife and I have two new cats, Higgins and Sullivan. The three of us get into capers together."
"SMALL MOLECULES, BIG DATA"
PhD Stanford University (Chemistry, Martínez Group)
B.S. University of Science and Technology of China (Chemical Physics)
Fang Liu’s research focuses on building computational tools to accelerate the design and discovery of functional molecules, developing efficient quantum mechanical models to simulate chemical reactions in their real solvent environment, especially for interactions between molecules and light. The Fang Group will combine data science with chemical science to enable fast prediction of molecular properties with machine learning. “I build tools that can be used by computational chemists, but I’m trying to make those computational tools more user-friendly so experimentalists also can use them, so it will accelerate the discovery of all types of chemistry.” Fang comes to Emory from a postdoctoral position in the Kulik Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I build tools that can be used by computational chemists, but I’m trying to make those computational tools more user-friendly so experimentalists also can use them, so it will accelerate the discovery of all types of chemistry.”
At Emory, Fang is excited to connect with graduate scholars with an interest in coding and big data who may not have yet fully considered the possibilities of computational research. “I didn’t do much undergrad research in computational chemistry—I joined two labs but I think I put most of my efforts in the experimental lab,” says Fang. “I had never done any programming for chemistry before I joined my graduate lab. So, I think it’s not a problem if someone has never done any computational research before. The most important thing is that they are curious about computational chemistry and interested in programming.” Of course, scholars with a computational focus in their undergraduate work will also be welcome in the group. “I think graduate students will be the major power in our lab. We will learn from each other.”
Why did Fang’s own interests lead her to computational work? She was inspired, in part, by her experiences handling radioactive materials in a laboratory environment as an undergraduate. “I think computational work is the future of chemistry—it can help us to predict things without doing the labs, especially radioactive labs that can be scary, and it can be helpful to researchers if we can reduce the amounts of experiments we need to do and do some computational work in advance and only do the harmful experiments as a final stage. By doing that we can make chemistry cleaner, better for the researchers, and faster to develop.”
When not in the lab, Fang’s interests lean towards the chemistry of cooking and she brings an extensive tea collection with her to Emory.
“IMPLEMENTING AND DESIGNING STUDENT-CENTERED PEDAGOGIES”
Katherine McKnelly joins Emory directly from the University of California, Irvine, where she received her PhD over the summer. Several members of the Emory community were able to attend her virtual defense alongside the UIUC community—a silver lining of the necessity of moving the defense online!
At Emory, Katherine is excited to be part of a community focused on student success. Her goal is to engage students and inspire them to keep learning and growing beyond a single classroom experience. "My hope is for all students to keep questioning and pushing the limits of human knowledge. I like to incorporate and pose many questions in my classroom. I enjoy having students think about and answer questions." This approach is informed by her own experiences as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. "I had a couple professors who were phenomenal teachers. I wanted to become one of those good teachers who could help students learn the beauty of chemistry and how it helps us understand our physical world."
My hope is for all students to keep questioning and pushing the limits of human knowledge."
This semester, Katherine will teach CHEM 150: Structure and Properties. More than ever, she hopes that students will be open minded as they encounter new ways of learning via the Chemistry Unbound approach." She is excited to work with Emory students who come into the classroom ready to explore and advocate for themselves as learners. "I will give you the tools to learn the knowledge, be your advocate as you digest content, information, and ideas, and support your development as you form new connections and makes new discoveries."
“ORGANIC CHEMISTRY TOOLS FOR UNDERSTANDING BIOLOGY”
Acting Associate Professor
PhD Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur (Organic Chemistry, Singh Group)
Monika Raj comes to Emory from Auburn University. And she's not alone—six graduate scholars and one postdoctoral scholar made the move to Emory with her, quickly establishing a vibrant laboratory presence in Atwood Hall. Research in the Raj Group takes place at the interface between the fields of organic synthesis, bioorganic chemistry, and catalysis. They are interested in utilizing organic chemistry tools to solve problems in the field of biology. A major focus for the group is the development of new chemical reactions, catalysis, and ligation methodologies for the synthesis of biological molecules.
In the Raj Group, graduate students are involved in every aspect of scientific discovery. "We interact with each other—not only professionally but personally, help each other out in solving the problems." With a focus on interdisciplinary work, group members rely on each other's expertise to drive projects forward. "Some people are trained in one division, like organic or biological," says Monika, "and then they work together on the same project interacting with each other and learning from each other."
"All problems have some kind of chemical reaction going on. If you talk about polymer chains. Everything has some kind of chemical reaction going on. You can solve bigger problems if you have an understanding of chemistry."
Monika is particularly excited about the potential applications of research in the Raj Group to diagnostic tools for the early detection of cancer. Additionally, she is happy to be at a place in her career where she can focus on developing people as well as science, using her own experiences as a platform for supporting scholars underrepresented in STEM fields. "I am really proud of this and being in a place where I can make some changes, not only at the graduate level, but also participating in high school level events and encouraging them to take science courses. And also, when they move to undergrad, I always try to tell them that even if they are struggling, we want to retain them in science."
Part of that process of making people feel welcome in science is sharing her own love for the possibilities inherent in chemical research. "Everything we do in our daily life and everything around us involves chemistry," says Monika. "Simple movement of hands, blinking of eyes, breathing, and all the basic functions of life involves chemical molecules and reactions. When we say 'enzymes', they are doing chemistry inside of our body, if you talk about, for example, if I can see you, that’s chemistry, because we have a particular small molecule in our eye that when light falls on it, there is a change in the structure of the molecule that makes me see you. When I move my hand, when I talk - everything involves some kind of chemistry. All problems have some kind of chemical reaction going on. If you talk about polymer chains. Everything has some kind of chemical reaction going on. You can solve bigger problems if you have an understanding of chemistry."
Raphael F. Ribeiro
"SOLVING MATTER MYSTERIES"
PhD: University of California, Irvine (Burke Group)
M.S.: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (Cramer Group, Truhlar Group)
Bs.C.: Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil
Raphael Ribeiro’s work focuses on simulating photochemistry and chemical dynamics in nanoengineered materials. His research includes both the development and application of theories that allow investigation of material systems containing a large number of molecules interacting with nano or microstructures such as metals, semiconductors and topological insulators.
“My research is theoretical," says Raphael, "but the big picture is learning how to control the equilibrium and dynamical properties of molecular systems to obtain materials with new and desirable properties such as enhanced catalytic, sensing, or energy conversion capabilities." Using simulations, the Ribeiro Group will explore solutions to contemporary problems such as reducing the amount of energy and waste generated by chemical labs, enhancing the sensitivity and resolution of photodetectors, and minimizing dissipation and noise of miniaturized devices.
Raphael's work has been recognized with the Young Investigator Award from the ACS Physical Chemistry Division and a Chancellor’s Research Excellence Scholarship for Postdoctoral Scholars, University of California, San Diego.
"Graduate scholars should work in their best interests and explore lots of things to see what they really like and learn what they can do best."
Raphael looks forward to working with graduate students where his approach will be guided by his own experience exploring multiple fields and even transferring between programs. “I was fortunate to be able to explore lots of things when I was in my PhD. I took classes in different departments, I transferred to a different graduate school. I think it’s important to be flexible. Graduate scholars should work in their best interests and explore lots of things to see what they really like and learn what they can do best.”