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WCC Newsletter

40 Posts authored by: Michelle Rogers

By Cecilia Marzabadi and Samina Azad




Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross was honored for her receipt of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Award for Encouraging Women into the Chemical Sciences in two, half-day sessions at the Spring 2017 meeting. The symposium was held on Sunday, April 2nd in the afternoon and Tuesday April 4th in the morning.


The over-arching theme of the symposium, which was co-sponsored by WCC, CHEM, CMA and PROF, was the importance of mentoring and role models for women in chemical fields. Several speakers at the symposium were current and former leaders in ACS. They spoke about how those who had come before them had served as mentors to them and were instrumental to their success. The state of gender equity in STEM fields (and chemistry in particular) was also discussed, as well as possible solutions to increase the representation of women in these disciplines.


Speakers and their presentations on Sunday were:

•             Ruth Woodall - Encouraging true grit women in science: The story of a grit grinder

•             Amber Charlebois- Paying it forward in mentoring

•             Freneka Minter - POM (Power of Mentorship): The role mentorship in chemical sciences played in my life

•             R.Daniel Libby - Encouragement

•             Janet Bryant – What Women can Dotm: Encouraging and retaining women in STEM

•             Temiloluwa Thomas - Reaching gender equity for women of color in STEM. The importance of role models and mentors

•             Sandra Greer - Mentors, role models, and advisors: Distinctions, examples, and ethical issues


On the second day of the symposium, the speakers and their presentations were:

•             Elizabeth Nalley - Why STEM is Still a Four-lettered Word for Women

•             Kathleen Schultz – Mentors and Role Models: Stories from the Field

•             Phillip Pulley - Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) addresses equity issues for girls in STEM

•             Diane Schmidt- Challenges and ppportunities for leadership in the 21st century

•             Donna Nelson – Underrepresentation of women in science and what we can do about it

•             Judith Iriarte-Gross - Reaching gender equity in the chemical sciences: The importance of role models and mentors. Fortune cookie wisdom for women in the chemical sciences.


Congratulations to Dr. Iriarte-Gross!


Courtesy of Barbara J. Finlayson-Pitts


By Samina Azad


The WCC Luncheon was part of the committee’s 90th anniversary celebration. The keynote speaker Barbara Finlayson-Pitts, the 2017 Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medalist, presented an overview of her career path in atmospheric chemistry and lessons learned on the way. Barbara is currently UCI Distinguished Professor and Director of AirUCI at University of California, Irvine. Her work focuses on reactions that occurs in the atmosphere, specifically the interaction between gas particles and thin films with surfaces.


At the beginning of her career in the 1970s, as a professor at Cal State Fullerton, no one was paying attention to her work in heterogeneous NOx chemistry focusing on atmospheric interactions. A colleague suggested she try interesting projects because it is not a “publish or perish” environment. Barbara started a joint project with a professor at UCI and was later invited to join UCI as a Full Professor. She collaborated with theoretical chemists at external organizations including 2017 ACS President Allison Campbell at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.


Barbara shared some key points to how she got to where she is today.

  • No one told her she couldn’t – so she kept working on her interesting projects.
  • She was mentored and encouraged by many well established people in her field.
  • She worked with many wonderful collaborators who never said no.


When reflecting on her career, Barbara noted that her mentors were all white males, since no females were in her field back then. “Good news is that for atmospheric science gender parity is in sight – the only problem is the ladies’ rooms are now crowded!”

By Amy Balija


On Tuesday April 4, the WCC/Eli Lilly Travel Award Poster Session occurred prior to the WCC Luncheon. The poster session allows the winners to present their research to a broad audience, network with high ranking members of the ACS governance and WCC executive committee members, and receive acknowledgment for their accomplishments.


For Spring 2017, there were 10 award winners: Sarah Allec (University of California, Riverside), Alexa Barres (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Katherine Benavides (University of Texas at Dallas), Audrey Gallagher (Northwestern University), Anna Krieger (Gustavus Aldolphus College), Kelly Powderly (Northwestern University), Elaine Qian (University of California, Los Angeles), Taylor Sodano (University of Michigan), Madeline Wheeler (Dickinson College), and Bib Yang (University of Massachusetts at Amherst).  Their research interests and educational backgrounds were varied, providing an excellent opportunity for attendees to learn different aspects of chemistry.


The WCC/Eli Lilly Travel Award[RM1] [JW2] provides funds to support undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral female chemists to present their research at selected meeting or conference. The deadlines for applying are March 1 for meetings between July 1 and December 31 and September 15 for meetings between January 1 and June 30.


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By Kim Woznack


The WCC Open Meeting and “Just Cocktails” reception was held on Monday, April 3, 2017. WCC Chair Dr. Laura Sremaniak, presented an overview of the Women Chemists Committee and a description of the Spring 2017 meeting programming, with special attention to the 90th Anniversary of the group. Dr. Sremaniak also individually recognized the 2017 WCC Rising Stars.  During the “Just Cocktails” reception, attendees were able to review classic articles and documents in celebration of the WCC’s 90th anniversary, as well as a slide deck showing photos from various WCC events and committee functions. Organized by WCC, the “Just Cocktails” reception was held with support from ecosVC.


By Ana de Bettencourt-Dias


Dr. Rebecca Abergel is a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) and is the leader of the Heavy Element Decorporation and Biological Chemistry programs. These programs focus on strategies to counteract chemical, radiological and nuclear threats, as well as compounds for nuclear medicine.


During the WCC Rising Star Award Symposium, Rebecca gave an inspiring presentation detailing her path as an undergraduate in France, to her graduate and postdoctoral work in the United States and subsequent hire at LBNL. In her work at LBNL, she takes inspiration and learnings from nature, as she uses siderophores, small molecules made by microbes to transport iron, to promote removal of heavy atoms from contaminated populations.


Rebecca has realized that to be successful at one’s work, you must be a lifelong learner and that successful projects take time, effort, and a team of collaborators with complementary expertise. Dr. Abergel believes she has been very fortunate to be able to do her work at a national lab where the necessary infrastructure is available to pursue work on heavy atoms and radioactive materials. LBNL provides Rebecca access to unique techniques, such crystallography of protein complexes with radioactive elements which has enabled her to considerably increased the number of known X-ray structures of proteins with trans-uranium actinide elements. The techniques she learned in working with radioactive elements enabled her to advance her research to work with short-lived isotopes and develop chelators with targeted antibodies for cancer therapy.


Overall, Rebecca believes being a team player, staying humble, learning new techniques and collaborating with a variety of experts in different areas makes up a well-rounded and successful scientist.


By Ann Weber


As a child growing up in Burma, Yimon Aye, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University, was always fascinated by tools, engines, electronics, and fixing things. But due to political unrest, receiving a proper higher education in science in her homeland was simply impossible. Doing well on internationally-accredited exams enabled Yimon to win a full scholarship to study for sixth-form (high school equivalent) in the UK.  She then studied chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford University.  Yimon notes that Somerville is historically a very special home for nurturing women leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, and Dorothy Hodgkin.


Yimon moved to the United States to study synthetic organic chemistry with Professor David A. Evans at Harvard University, where she earned her Ph.D. degree in 2009.  Her hunger for learning led her to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship in another field, biological chemistry.  As a Damon Runyon Cancer Research postdoctoral fellow at MIT in Prof. JoAnne Stubbe’s lab, she learned a completely new field, having never studied biology before, even at the high-school level. Looking back, Yimon credits this dual training at the frontiers of small-molecule chemistry and mechanistic biology with endowing her lab with a unique, cross-disciplinary vision. “I feel these challenges have allowed me to go beyond my comfort zone and tackle the biggest challenges in the complex chemical processes of life during my independent career,” says Yimon. “My background is unconventional compared to those trained in mainstream oncology and biochemistry/chemical biology. I think that helps my lab at Cornell in two unique ways: first, we tend to see solutions to problems in different ways. Second, because I’ve made this pretty drastic switch in my training, I’m not afraid of failure, and my lab has been fearless in taking new directions in research and successfully implementing new techniques.”


At Cornell, Yimon’s lab is pioneering new methods to deconvolute unconventional cell signaling paradigms.  For example, they developed T-REX™ (targetable reactive electrophiles and oxidants), which allows them to link specific upstream protein modifications to downstream responses.  This technique can be applied in vitro and in vivo in zebrafish embryos to study reactive electrophile and oxygen signaling pathways which are believed to be important in neuroprotection, stress defense, and immune responses.  


Aside from solving disease-related problems, another key driving force for Yimon is closely tied to her personal background. “Education is a real privilege, and being educated at world-class institutions like Oxford and Harvard, and being taught by inspirational teachers, are true privileges that one cannot take for granted,” she explains. “I am here today because many individuals, including my family who supported and believed in me, have helped me directly and indirectly along the way, and I want to continue working hard to actively pay it forward.”  Yimon is keen to nurture aspiring students from disadvantaged backgrounds and do for them what her teachers, mentors and philanthropic foundations have done for her to help her get to where she is today.


“I never grew up thinking that I would leave my homeland, study at Oxford and Harvard, or be in a position where I can serve as a teacher, academic, and scientist at a first-rate institution in the United States. But I have always tried to do my best in any small step I’ve taken. Staying focused and going with a ‘work hard, think hard, and have no fear’ attitude helps,” she says. “I also think that having an appreciation of the opportunities in life and showing gratitude can go a long way.”

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By Alexia Finotello


Dr. Beata A. Kilos-Réaume recalls that her love and passion for chemistry and problem solving began when her dad gave her a chemistry kit as a child. Her love of what she does was clearly demonstrated during the WCC Rising Star Symposium where she emphasized the impact of having a diverse career and taking opportunities that expands one's skill set.


Beata credits her successes to her hard work, following her passions, and being resilient. She underscores that her ability to be adaptive, be adventurous, and to learn from her mistakes have been keys to success throughout her career. While, she believes that if one is intelligent and knows how to channel that intelligence, one can reach their professional and personal goals and targets. Beata also cautions that successful scientists must not only work hard, but also take calculated risks to achieve greater impacts.


As a first-generation immigrant, Beata graduated from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland with a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Chemistry. As one of Europe’s few scholars selected for the prestigious Marie Curie Fellowship, Beata completed work toward her doctorate at the Institut de Recherches sur la Catalyse et l’Environnement de Lyon (CNRS, IRCELYON) in Villeurbanne, France. Beata followed this with a joint appointment at the University of California, Berkeley’s Chemical Engineering Department and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where she worked with Professors Enrique Iglesia and Alex Bell on oxidation catalysis. Subsequently, she started her career at the Dow Chemical Company in 2008 and since then has worked on a wide array of projects for numerous Dow businesses, focusing on heterogeneous catalysis and materials science. For Beata, solving challenging problems and working on diverse teams are the most exciting parts of her job. She derives great satisfaction from developing new catalysts and processes to produce chemicals and energy.


Outside of work Beata enjoys art, jazz, classical music, traveling, tennis, skiing, and fine dining. Beata says "If I wasn't a scientist I'd work in art and design. I am a fan of mid-century modern architecture and non-objective art."


A strong proponent of diversity and inclusion, Beata is also a leader at several Dow and ACS organizations supporting these goals. Some additional advice she offers to women starting their careers is to follow their passion and build a network of mentors and supporters that can provide them with candid feedback. Beata also urges women scientists progressing in their careers to "...look to serve as a role model and promote diversity and inclusion for women in science. Be an inspiration."


By Ann Weber


For Erin E. Carlson, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, chemistry is a family affair.  Her father, an organic chemist who owns a small biotech company, introduced her to the wonders of science at a young age. “I recall many Saturdays spent sitting on a stool at the bench, swirling beakers full of colored solutions and carefully examining the yield of my prized crystal growing kits,” she says. “It was largely as a result of witnessing his passion and excitement for his work that I too decided to pursue a career as a chemist.”


While traveling with her family to the jungles of Peru as a high school student, Erin first became aware of the global threat posed by antibacterial-resistant organisms. “In the midst of poverty and disease, it became apparent to me that bacterial infections were both ubiquitous and devastating,” she explains. “As such, I have long been passionate about the development of antimicrobial agents.”


Following completion of her B.A. degree at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, Erin’s passion for antibiotic discovery led her to pursue a graduate degree in chemical biology under the direction of Professor Laura Kiessling at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she developed chemical probes to study carbohydrate function.  She then moved to The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA to pursue postdoctoral studies in the group of Professor Benjamin Cravatt, who is renowned for his work in the development of small molecule tools to map the activity state of proteins.


Mentoring, another passion of Erin’s, prompted her to choose an academic career over one in industry.  In 2008, Professor Carlson started her independent career at Indiana University, and after she received tenure in 2014, she moved her group to Minnesota.  Using a combination of skills she obtained in the Kiessling and Cravatt labs coupled with her own passion for natural products, Erin’s research team unites tools from chemistry and biology to study the master regulators of bacterial growth and communication. In contrast to more traditional antimicrobial discovery efforts that depend upon the identification of compounds that simply kill bacteria, Erin’s research focuses on the identification of proteins and small molecules that are required for microbial “conversations.”  This approach may ultimately result in antibiotics which are less prone to resistance. 


In addition to chemistry, Erin has a life-long interest in photography.  She was inspired by Ansel Adams who said, “To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces.” Erin brings this same philosophy to her science, leading her to ask a simple question: “What lies beneath the surface, outside the rules and across the boundaries?”   Answering this question while following her passions has led her down a path of success. 


By Samina Azad


Dr. Erin S. Baker is a Senior Research Scientist in the Biological Sciences Division at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Earth & Biological Sciences Directorate. Her specialty is studying biological systems by using ion mobility spectrometry in conjunction with mass spectrometry, an investigative specialty known as IMS-MS. Erin received her B.S. from Montana State University, Bozeman and her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Erin started out in pre-med and considered biology, but ultimately decided to pursue chemistry because “you can prove things faster.”


Growing up on a farm, Erin learned early on the value of hard work from her parents, who were her biggest role models. From them, she learned that hard work and diligence pays off. Erin gained mechanical aptitude from fixing farm equipment, which proved useful when she started to work in the lab as a scientist. She is also grateful to her PIs for sharing their valuable experience and scientific knowledge with her.


One of the biggest lessons that Erin learned is you have to keep trying to make experiments work. Perhaps only 5% of your experiments will work, but you cannot give up. The same holds true for funding. Erin experienced that no matter how brilliant your proposal, the proposal review board is the most critical factor for obtaining funding. The key is to keep trying - the more proposals you submit, the better the chance of success.


Another key lesson is to learn from others and the mistakes they have made. Talk to as many people as possible – network and collaborate with people from diverse fields to strengthen your proposals and build a strong team. Erin has found that one of the best ways to find collaborators it to attend conferences where you can talk to the presenters afterwards about working together.


Her final lesson is to pursue what you are passionate about. It will drive you through your workdays.


Balancing work and life is not easy, since obtaining funding requires long hours in the lab and continuously working overtime. You always get burnt out around deadlines. Erin keeps herself motivated and energized by planning to work on her favorite projects after submitting the proposals. She likes camping and rafting with her husband in remote locations so phones/computers are unplugged and out of reach. Erin has two dogs that are always happy to see her when she gets back home. They help take away work stress.

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By Ean Warren


Dr. Alissa Park is the Lenfest Professor in Applied Climate Science of Earth and Environmental Engineering & Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. She is also the Director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at the Earth Institute. She received her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from University of British Columbia and her PhD, also in chemical engineering, from The Ohio State University.


Her research focuses on sustainable energy conversion pathways with emphasis on integrated carbon capture, utilization and storage. Founded on fundamental studies of chemical and physical interactions of natural and engineered materials with CO2, Alissa’s group is working on innovative chemical and fuel synthesis pathways using unconventional energy sources such as shale gas, biomass and municipal solid wastes. Alissa holds patents for methods and systems for carbon dioxide capture and storage. Before winning the ACS WCC Rising Star Award, Alissa received awards and honors including the NSF CAREER Award (2009) and James Lee Young Investigator Award (2010).


Alissa spoke at the ACS meeting in San Francisco about the difficulties she faced early in her career. As the first woman in her department, she felt alone and was acutely aware of being a junior faculty member. While Alissa was invited to be on many panels, she was often there as the only woman. As she gained experience, Alissa was eventually viewed as a peer to her colleagues. She said it helped having many mentors and asking questions regarding the 10-year horizon, well past short-term qualifying exams. Finally, she found she needed to trust her students to advance their science as they were integral to everyone’s success.