Alumni Newsletter Fall 2020

Page 1


FALL 2020


FROM THE CHAIR Dear Alumni and Friends, In July I took the reins as Chairperson of Chemistry from Professor Jeffrey Johnson after his highly successful four and a half-year term (2016-2020) that enabled the addition of eight stellar faculty members and the Associate Chairs for Business Administration and Research. His tenure significantly strengthened the excellence of Chemistry at UNC. Thank you, Jeff! Our year at UNC Chemistry has been sculpted by the unprecedented challenges facing our nation. The #ShutDownSTEM movement in June encouraged us to be introspective and analyze the inequities that exist within our walls. Our Diversity Strategic Plan has started multiple initiatives for actively recruiting under-represented minorities across all levels in the department. There is much to be done and it is a task that must be relentlessly pursued over our lifetimes. Our thoughts are also with all our alumni and friends who suffered losses, both great and small, during the COVID-19 pandemic. We all mourn the loss of Paul “Skip” Kropp who passed away in late June after a brief illness. Paul was an active member of the department over five decades! Our thoughts are with his family, and we are heartened that his legacy lives on through many of you. Despite this year’s challenges, we are enjoying a record-breaking year in grant funding, have innovated our pedagogy to take full advantage of the virtual medium, and ushered in a new era in basic energy science with the successful funding of the Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels (CHASE). These accomplishments are built on a tradition of excellence in teaching, research and services, and I hope you will join me in expressing our sincerest gratitude to this year’s retirees: Professors Joseph DeSimone, Nancy Allbritton, and Jim Jorgenson. Their impacts to chemistry research and education, entrepreneurship and our broader community are vast. Within our staff, Debbie Norton and Nancy Ray retired after decades of committed and exceptional service to the department. Through these legacies, we look to the future: our faculty, staff, students and postdocs. In Spring 2021, we will welcome Elizabeth Brunk, a joint faculty member between Chemistry and the Integrative Program for Biological and Genome Sciences (iBGS) specializing in computational biology. I am also excited to share that earlier this year, we started renovating the HVAC systems and have begun constructing the Lab of the Future for undergraduate teaching in Morehead Laboratories. We hope you will stop by for a visit once the pandemic is over. Lastly, I want to say “THANK YOU” to all our alumni and friends. Your continued support is paramount to our success as the beloved Chemistry Department at UNC Chapel Hill. Stay safe and healthy!

Wei You Department Chairperson


Content & Design Editor

Alice Zhao


Q & A with Department Chair Wei You

Managing Co-Editors

Ralph House Laura Yurco

Department Chair

Associate Chair for Business Administration


Laura Yurco


Postdoctoral fellow Bruno Aramburu-Trošelj working on photochemistry experiments in the CHASE Solar Hub/Director Prof. Gerald Meyer’s laser lab. (Photo by Donn Young/UNC-CH College of Arts & Sciences)

Let’s Connect! #uncchemistry

Dick Research Group develops novel approach for virus detection in urine

@uncchemistry Department of Chemistry University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Campus Box 3290 919-843-7100

Doctoral students awarded NDSEG Fellowships 11 Chemistry students earn pretigious NSF fellowships



Fred Young wins the Chemistry Extra Mile award for going the ‘extra mile'



STAFF NEWS Carolina Chemistry manager earns distinction as UNC's Manager of the Year

Introducing the Engineering Innovations Lab

/UNC.Chemistry @uncchemistry

Carolina Chemistry students earn awards for senior honors research thesis

RESEARCH NEWS Glish Research Group studies effect of patient aerosol emissions on healthcare workers

STUDENT NEWS Two Chemistry undergraduates named Goldwater Scholars

Department life during the pandemic

Wei You

Ralph House


Carolina Chemistry announces new center, focus on solar energy

Department of Chemistry

Associate Chair for Research



Robert Williams '75

FACULTY NEWS Marcey Waters receives Board of Governors' award for excellence in teaching Leslie Hicks earns SfRBM 2020 Mentoring Excellence award Mike Ramsey named UNCCH's Inventor of the Year





Q&A WEI YOU Department Chair

By UNC-CH Chemistry Communication The College of Arts and Sciences appointed Wei You as Department Chair of Chemistry. He began his appointment on July 01, 2020. “The College Dean’s Office is grateful to all faculty who make the selfless commitment to serve as Department Chair. When this appointment is made for a department, it is undertaken with much thought and care for the well-being of the unit and the tone it sets for a department’s future. We are thrilled to have Dr. Wei You serving in this important role in Chemistry. He brings a collaborative approach and a strong commitment to the future of the chemistry department at UNC-Chapel Hill. I look forward to working with him,” said Jaye Cable, Senior Associate Dean for Natural Sciences and Mathematics. You is a professor of chemistry and applied physical sciences whose research actively pursues novel materials via chemical innovation for clean energy and human health. He earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Chicago in 2004. As Chair, You plans to make research excellence his priority. Q: Congratulations on your appointment as Department Chair! What does this position mean to you? A: The collegiality one feels within UNC Chemistry is unparalleled. Since I joined UNC Chemistry as a junior professor in 2006, the Department has been consistently supportive of my career development. Accepting the position as Chair for this well-respected Department means great responsibility, and I appreciate the trust my colleagues have placed in me.

Q: Describe your career path to becoming a Chemist. A: I was 14 years old, in the ninth grade, when I first learned about Chemistry. It was truly amazing to watch the instructor run “unexpected” experiments; imagine the first time you see the sustained burning of a metal strip (magnesium) and the dazzling flare that follows. I thought the instructor was a magician! At that moment, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in chemistry. In 1999, I graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a concentration in Polymer Chemistry. My next stop was the University of Chicago. I worked there for five years under professor Luping Yu to complete my Ph.D. in Chemistry. In 2004, my wife and I packed up our bags and drove 2,200 miles to California where I would complete my postdoctoral training at Stanford University. At Stanford, I worked with professor Zhenan Bao and conducted research in chemical engineering. Two years later, my wife and I packed our bags again and headed to the east coast where I would join the Department of Chemistry at [UNC] Chapel Hill (aka “Southern Part of Heaven”) as a junior professor of chemistry. Q: What is the You Group’s research focus? A: My research group and I strongly believe that our research should have clearly defined end applications; thus, the overarching theme of our research program is “application oriented fundamental research.” We apply contemporary chemistry to enable discovery of new materials, focusing on clean energy and human health. Our lab is currently pursuing three main areas: (1) conjugated polymers for solar cells, with a particular focus on stability; (2) low dimensional organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites with unique properties for optoelectronic applications, including solar cells, light emitting diodes, etc. and (3) orthogonality in polymer chemistry to design sophisticated and ‘smart’ polymeric materials for a variety of applications, including drug delivery and soft robotics/ electronics. Q: What are some items you would like to accomplish as Department Chair? A: One of my top priorities is maintaining research excellence. Our department recently celebrated its bicentennial. One of the keys to our successful history is to identify and recruit talented early career scientists and to provide sustained support throughout their career at Chapel Hill.


UNC Chemistry removes GRE requirement from graduate admissions By UNC-CH Chemistry Communication


he Department of Chemistry will no longer require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores as a part of our admissions process. This decision, effective Fall 2020, came after careful consideration from the Graduate Studies Committee. Committee member and assistant professor of chemistry Jeffrey Dick, provides an explanation of findings that led to this decision: “Over the years, UNC-CH Chemistry faculty members have noticed that the GRE is not an accurate indicator of success in graduate school. Some UNC-CH programs, such as the Biological & Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP), have led the way in dropping the requirement. The GRE represents a rather expensive and costly barrier to admission, disadvantaging under-represented minorities. The requirement of a GRE has precluded

talented students from diverse backgrounds from entering PhD programs at UNC and across the nation. At UNC-CH Chemistry, our graduate courses center on critical thinking and problem solving and are often not test-based courses. Thus, a standardized test taken over just a few hours cannot quantify the motivation, critical thinking ability, perseverance, and passion necessary to succeed in our rigorous program. Instead, we support a more holistic approach to admissions decisions, including letters of recommendation, course performance, research experience, and personal/research statements.” The Department of Chemistry’s Fall 2020 applications will not require the GRE. This decision saves students resources and time in planning for graduate applications. Our central goal is to motivate diversity and inclusion and recruit the most talented students to our program. PhD students are a primary driver of our scientific progress. They are the cornerstones of our research programs, and any barriers to our goal to enhance diversity and inclusion and recruit the best students must be addressed. Moving forward, we are certain this decision will strengthen our UNC–CH Chemistry community.

Lab of the Future construction to be completed by January 2021

Ongoing construction on the fourth floor of Morehead Laboratories to create UNC Chemistry’s Lab of the Future for undergraduate teaching

The “Lab of the Future” represents the department’s vision of a modern teaching laboratory that encourages collaboration and interaction between students. Located on the fourth floor of Morehead Laboratories, the space consists of two adjacent rooms that will be upfit with digital displays and ventilation stations that line the perimeter of each lab.

In 2018, plans to upgrade the labs were set in motion by generous support from the College of Arts and Sciences. As the department transitioned into online learning in response to the ongoing pandemic, Morehead Labs was left empty and

ideal for construction this past summer. The project has become a model for Carolina Chemistry’s vision for launching a fundraising effort to renovate each lab in Morehead and create teaching spaces that will propel our undergraduate laboratory pedagogy and create exciting learning opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. “In the coming years, we hope to see similar renovations across all labs in the building that align with the evolution of science and science teaching,” said Ralph House, Associate Chair for Research. The Department of Chemistry thanks the College of Arts and Sciences for their support and UNC Facilities for their tremendous effort in managing and coordinating the construction project.

We are excited to offer naming opportunities within this new space. For more information, please contact Colleen Sisneros, CHEM.UNC.EDU | 5


CHASE Hub Director Gerald Meyer advising graduate student Rachel Bangle (pictured left) and postdoctoral fellow Bruno Aramburu-Trošelj (pictured right) in spectroscopic studies of molecule/material hybrid photoelectrodes for cooperative sunlight-driven generation of liquid fuels from carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water. (Photo by Donn Young/UNC-CH College of Arts & Sciences)

By University Communications


he U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will provide $100 million in funding to new artificial photosynthesis research projects, including a $40 million award to the North Carolina-based Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels (CHASE) to accelerate fundamental research on the production of fuels from sunlight. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leads the CHASE partnership, which will work to develop hybrid photoelectrodes for fuel production that combine semiconductors for light absorption with molecular catalysts for conversion and fuel production. CHASE will blend experiment with theory to understand and establish


Carolina Chemistry announces new center, CHASE, focus on solar energy

new design principles for fuels-from-sunlight systems. The CHASE group will receive $40 million over five years to support researchers working to evolve solar energy technology to meet the world’s increasing energy needs. More than 30 investigators at six institutions – Brookhaven National Laboratory, Emory University, North Carolina State University, the University of Pennsylvania, UNC–Chapel Hill and Yale University – are partners in the CHASE effort. “We have assembled a very strong team to set brand– new directions in this field,”said Gerald Meyer, director of the CHASE Hub. “Our focus is to use the sun’s energy to directly generate storable liquid fuels.”

In addition to Gerald Meyer (Director), UNC-CH investigators include Jillian Dempsey (Deputy Director), Joanna Atkin (Chemistry), James Cahoon (Chemistry), Jeffrey Dick (Chemistry), Yosuke Kanai (Chemistry), Matthew Lockett (Chemistry), Alexander Miller (Chemistry), Rene Lopez (Physics & Astronomy and Applied Sciences), and Alexander Tropsha (School of Pharmacy).

The DOE Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub program will continue through the combined efforts of LiSA and CHASE. Both are expected to build on the accomplishments of JCAP, as well as several DOE Energy Frontier Research Centers and core research efforts, including the UNC EFRC, as well as core research efforts devoted to artificial photosynthesis.

The CHASE proposal was developed under the guidance of the UNC Solar Energy Research Center, SERC, founded in 2008 to serve as a regional hub for solar energy research. A DOE Energy Frontier Research Center, EFRC, established at UNC in 2009, provided foundational research on renewable energy and leveraged North Carolina’s role as a national leader in solar energy production.

“Sunlight is the world’s most basic energy source, and an ability to generate fuels directly from sunlight has the potential to revolutionize the U.S. energy economy,” said Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar in a press release announcing the awards. “This effort will keep America at the forefront of artificial photosynthesis research, a field of great challenge but also huge promise.”

“With this support, CHASE will build on a strong foundation of solar energy research here at UNC and establish critical new partnerships that will “CHASE will build on enable the transa strong foundation formative scientific advances needed of solar energy to realize liquid soresearch here at UNC lar fuels,” said Jillian and establish critical Dempsey, depunew partnerships ty director of the CHASE Hub. that will enable the

The Department’s investment in the Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub program represents a continuing large-scale commitment of U.S. scientific and technological resources to this highly competitive and promising area of investigation.

transformative scientific advances needed to realize liquid solar fuels”

A second partnership funded by DOE, the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (LiSA), headquartered at the California Institute of Technology, will receive $60 million to pursue an approach called “co-design,” which seeks to streamline the complicated steps needed to convert sunlight into fuels to make the process more efficient. LiSA and CHASE will succeed the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), the DOE Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub, which was established in 2010, and is concluding this year.

Learn more at

Pictured above: CHASE Hub logo Contact CHASE ( Directors Gerald Meyer, Director Jillian Dempsey, Deputy Director Connect with CHASE! /chase.hub.1 @CHASE_Hub CHEM.UNC.EDU | 7


DEPARTMENT LIFE DURING THE PANDEMIC By Alice Zhao When the pandemic struck, life as we knew it became an endless pace of Zoom meetings, limited social interactions, staggered lab schedules, virtual classes and learning how to function in “remote life.” In March of 2020, the bustling energy from active research labs, classrooms and business offices ground to a halt with the rest of the country. We all had to begin learning how to function in “remote life” by replacing in-person activities with virtual labs, classrooms and offices. Ralph House, Associate Chair for Research and primary point person for the department’s COVID-19 related efforts stated, “This year, we’ve had to balance continuous uncertainty while keeping our research and teaching enterprise moving forward. Our thoughts are with everyone who has suffered major loss. I believe we’ve all learned a lot about ourselves, our potential to persevere and, having been forced to innovate in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise, will create a department that emerges from the pandemic far stronger than the one we left behind.” By the end of the summer, the department and university had implemented protocols and procedures to promote safety and well-being during our return to campus, including limited personnel capacity in our buildings at 8 | CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

any given time. In addition to the requirement of donning face masks, all chemistry buildings were converted to key card access only, hallways were marked to ease the flow of foot traffic, labs implemented strict social distancing and sanitization guidelines and routine orders to procure community protective equipment. At the conclusion of the summer, faculty, staff, students and postdocs successfully applied remote teaching, learning and working to continue operations in a new way. When the fall semester approached, the department remained vigilant and was able to act swiftly when the University reduced on campus teaching in August 2020. To foster the same camaraderie and caring for each other’s mental well-being as before the pandemic, the Social Activities and Student Wellness (SWELL) committees have partnered to host an array of virtual activities, including baking, yoga, game night and water cooler chats. While the department awaits a safe return to campus as we knew it, members of Carolina Chemistry share their experiences (to the right) on “department life during the pandemic.” Pictured above, from left: Nita Eskew, Kathleen Nevins and Danielle Zurcher wear face masks with chemistry designs!

Erik Alexanian Professor

Life as a principal investigator What I miss the most is being in a room with my students and colleagues. Those personal relationships are a major aspect of what makes UNC Chemistry so special. Todd Austell Teaching Professor and Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies

Life in a virtual classroom Fall 2020 was the most difficult semester to teach in my life. Teaching remotely does work to some extent, but it does not provide the same experience of being in the classroom that students want and need. It certainly differed from the real UNC experience and not what I want or the students deserve. I never thought I would miss teaching my students in a classroom as much as I do! Sarah Sutton Ph.D. Candidate, Papanikolas Group

Life on campus Coming back to working in-person in lab was a little daunting at first. However, this time has provided some surprising new experiences. Walking to campus every day (to avoid taking the bus) gives me a little extra exercise that helps me focus throughout the day. Eating lunch outside with my friends from other divisions allows me to spend time with those I previously had never really seen during the work day. Wearing a mask everyday has motivated me to learn how to do winged eyeliner so I can still be a little creative with my makeup looks. Overall, I believe the graduate students and post-docs in the department are trying their best to do quality research and maintain work-life balance while prioritizing safety and health.

Chiung-Wei Huang Ph.D. Candidate, Atkin Lab

Life as a grad student and working parent of two We are a family with two toddlers while nurturing two PhD degrees. The pandemic has put us on new life and research stress, on top of the already chaos, and has made us seek family support, meaning to place our young kids all the way across the world. It has been almost 7 months of separation, and we are still understanding the interface between work and life. Josh Chen Director of X-Ray core lab

Life as a core lab director Social distancing has drastically reduced my interaction with my colleagues and students, something I certainly miss in the pre-COVID era. All meetings and conferences this year have been carried out online, and the accessibility allows me to attend some of those meetings that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Mandy Melton Admin Support Associate

Life in the virtual office Everyone has been really understanding and very supportive of my roles as both an admin and graduate student [in Library Science]. I think being in both roles simultaneously has really helped me grow, because I am able to see everything happening through so many lenses. Without a doubt, everyone is being as supportive as they can to ease this very complex time for each other. All of the faculty are doing their best to reduce stress for their students. All of the staff members are trying so hard to make things run as close to normal as they can. Every student I talk to is working so hard to learn in a nearly impossible situation. When I work, I sit next to my little plant, Diva, and I’ve watched her work hard to bloom throughout this year. We may not all be blooming just yet, but, we are most definitely going to get there. CHEM.UNC.EDU | 9

RESEARCH NEWS Glish Research Group studies effect of patient aerosol emissions on healthcare workers Paul Soma and Nathaneal Park of the Glish group are collaborating with researchers from Duke Hospital to study the emission of aerosols from patients Figure 1. The ‘patient’ with an treated with non-invasive oxygen mask (hanging down (or open) oxygen delivfrom the mask is the lung ery systems (e.g. oxygen used to simulate breathing). masks and cannulas). Despite the anesthetic-associated risks, ventilators are used out of concern for the safety of health care workers (HCWs), even when open systems may be better treatment for COVID-19 patients. Ventilators are invasive but closed systems, so what is exhaled by the patient goes through a filtering system and is not expelled into the surrounding environment. Concern about open O2 delivery systems existed long before the current pandemic, but little is known about aerosols emitted (exhaled) by the patient that could affect HCWs. Initial work by the Glish group uses a man-

nequin to measure aerosols at different distances from the ‘patient’ (see Figure 1). Preliminary results indicate significant, above background, increases in aerosols at 1, 2 and 3 meters when using an oxygen mask but not cannula. The next step is to do Figure 2. Experimental set-up with the measurements aerosol measuring instrumentation with humans. The (DMA/CPC, Extech) set at different Glish group is also distances from the ‘patient’ (front developing a new and side of the face). The ventilator ionization method is used to simulate normal breathing in this experimental model and a for real-time aeroglycerol solution is used to generate sol mass spectrom- aerosol that is similar in viscosity to etry to characterize human mucus. the chemical composition of aerosols. This new method is 10-100 times more sensitive than existing techniques, enabling aerosol composition as well as distribution measurements within a room.

Dick Research Group develops novel approach for virus detection in urine Hill is developing novel approaches for virus detection in urine. With the generous support from the Chemical Measurement and Imaging Program at the National Science Foundation, the Dick Group is designing chips that can detect virus particles in bodily fluids like saliva, urine, blood and plasma.

Prototype of the Dick Research Group’s novel instrumentation, including the chip that could be used for in-field/at-home detection of virus particles in bodily fluids.

The laboratory of Jeffrey E. Dick in the Department of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel 10 | CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

These measurements have unprecedented sensitivity because they can detect a single virus particle. The group is also developing inexpensive instrumentation and iOS/Android applications that can couple with the chips for rapid, in-field/at-home detection. The figure to the left shows a picture of the chip and the 78 gold electrode sensors on the chip at the left and the application interface on an iPhone at the right.

Introducing the Engineering Innovations Lab By Collin McKinney and Matthew Verber In the very near future, a chemistry student may want to build a robot to optimize a chemical reaction. To succeed, they’ll need a skillset that allows them to think about sensor design, robust measurement tools, data analysis and machine learning algorithms. The task will take expertise from a team with reimagined tools and resources at their fingertips. Since 1968, our team of electronics engineers and technicians have supported the chemistry department’s mission in research and education. In the last 10 years, our efforts have led to $36 million in grant support, dozens of publications, patents, software licenses, and student training through workshops and curricular offerings. Today, our team runs the Engineering Innovations Lab (EIL) to meet the demands of the next generation in chemistry.

From left: Collin McKinney, Director, Engineering Innovations Lab, Regent Joubert, Electronics Technician and Matthew Verber, Electrical Engineer and Director, DataSpace. Not Shown: Reginald Leatherberry, Electronics Technician and Jeongock Lusk, Software Engineer. (Photo by Lars Sahl/UNC)

The EIL consists of four primary thrust areas: Electronics Design Lab, Nano-Device Characterization Lab (NDCL), DataSpace, and Chemistry Automation Lab, broadly encompassing instrumentation design and con-

struction, electrical characterization of nanostructured materials, data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. Collectively, the EIL supports courses in Chemistry and Applied Physical Sciences, and recently created modules for CHEM 742L to introduce chemistry graduate students to Python programming and its statistical capabilities. These resources speak to our strengths in traditional electronics and engineering and provide a solid foundation to construct the future: DataSpace and Chemistry Automation Lab. The former has grown out of a revolutionary vision to support UNC’s data-centric research, education, and creativity, providing a “makerspace” for data, giving students the space, tools, expertise, and freedom to explore their own data projects. Technical and educational resources for advancing automation and artificial intelligence in chemical and bio-synthesis is the focus of the Chemistry AutoSince 1968, our mation Lab. This team of electronics lab uses robotic engineers and platforms, flowtechnicians through instrumentation, and have supported chemical reacthe chemistry tors to advance department’s mission projects involvin research and ing process aueducation. tomation design and implementation, sensor innovation, and machine learning integration for production and feedback control. Time marches on, and as our research enterprise evolves to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, we stand ready to do our part to make sure our students and postdocs remain at the cutting-edge by providing the resources to support our tradition of excellence in Chemistry teaching and research. CHEM.UNC.EDU | 11


By Meghan Ketchie and Alice Zhao It is hard to believe that a chemist, recently awarded for his scientific research, did not always hold an interest in chemistry. Frank Leibfarth, assistant professor of chemistry and principal investigator of the Leibfarth Group, found his initial introduction to chemistry in high school to be boring. His arrival to the University of South Dakota, where he would go on to complete a B.A. in Chemistry and Physics, marked a turning point in what would become his career as a synthetic chemist. On the first day of general chemistry, Leibfarth took a placement exam. Upon receiving his test scores, he was advised to move into an advanced chemistry course. Remembering his initial lack of interest in chemistry, Leibfarth hesitated at first. Once he enrolled in the course, taught by a dynamic faculty member in a smaller setting, the field of chemistry started to pique Leibfarth’s interest. In pursuit to dive deeper and learn more about the field, he decided to take an organic chemistry course. It was there that he found his passion for synthetic chemistry and career focus. “It’s [organic chemistry] very visual. It’s like a three-dimensional puzzle that you’re putting together. It’s an interesting mix of art and creativity, but also hardcore science. It’s a combination that I hadn’t seen in any of my other science classes.” After graduation, Leibfarth headed west to the University of California Santa Barbara to complete his Ph.D. in Chemistry. Following graduation, he began his NSF postdoctoral fellowship under the mentorship of Professor Timothy F. Jamison at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2016, Leibfarth opted to join the faculty here at Carolina Chemistry based on its welcoming environment and supportive culture. As an early career scientist, his research on synthetic polymers has al12 | CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

ready created a significant impact both in his field and in everyday life. In the impressive span of just a year, Leibfarth has been awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the Cottrell Scholar Award, Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award and the Herman F. Mark Young Scholar Award. He is incredibly grateful for the awards and attributes much of his success to early advances in his research as well as to the graduate students and postdocs in his lab. “We [The Leibfarth Group] focus on doing the best science that we can. We focus on growing great scientists and leaders. It’s through the day-to-day processes and routines of trying to achieve those goals that become cumulative and lead to greater things.” When asked which breakthrough or discovery he is most proud of, Leibfarth recounts his breakthrough in controlling stereochemistry in functionalized plastics derived from renewable resources. Stereochemistry is the spatial arrangement of atoms, in this case, used to give a polymer improved properties. “The advance that I am most proud of is our ability to find new approaches to control stereochemistry in functionalized plastics that could be derived from renewable resources. We think that area and way of thinking will have a long-term impact on making more sustainable and recyclable plastics,” said Leibfarth. Polymers are repeating units of individual molecules joined together to form a molecular chain. For instance, cellulose, a substance found in plants, is made up of multiple units of glucose. Polymers make up everyday household items such as yogurt containers, bottle caps and plastic bags. Though plastics exist in everyday life and some are recyclable, many do not biodegrade, which takes an environmental toll on our planet.

Leibfarth’s breakthrough contributes to a circular plastic economy, where plastics are designed and manufactured to be sustainable and recyclable. Leibfarth attributes much of the successes of his group’s advancements to their willingness to take risks and create a thriving group culture built around collaboration, support and rigor. He credits his breakthrough in sustainable polymers to his group’s willingness to take risks without fear of failing; a trait he notes as one of the group’s strengths. The Leibfarth Group’s dynamic culture contributes greatly to their well-earned successes. At the core of the group culture is the idea of improving every day. “We have clear communication about what we strive to

do and what we strive for the group culture to be and then hold people accountable to that at all times,” notes Leibfarth. Leibfarth reiterates this idea of improving every day when asked what advice he would give to his younger self. “Don’t be in a rush to get where you are. Take it one day at a time, it will be rewarding,” said Leibfarth. In his younger years, he was extremely competitive and generally ambitious. In retrospect, he believes that spending time to improve everyday would have been more advantageous than dwelling on competition or where he would see himself in five years.

Meet the Leibfarth Group! From left, front row: Irene Manning, Jill Williamson, Phil Knutson, Sally Lewis, Travis Varner, Cole Sorenson, Aaron Teator; back row: Rob Johnson, Marcus Reis, Paige Jacky, Nick Taylor, Alexis Sarabia, Prof. Frank Leibfarth (Photo by Lars Sahl/UNC)

About Frank Leibfarth Frank Leibfarth is an assistant professor of chemistry and principal investigator of the Leibfarth Group. He earned a B.S. in Chemistry and Physics from South Dakota and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California Santa Barbara. The Leibfarth Group’s research seeks to develop new methods for the synthesis of functional polymers with the goal of discovering and studying their emergent macromolecular behavior. The approach is rooted in the belief that the convergence of organic, continuous-flow, and polymer chemistries holds the key to making materials smarter, more functional, and more sustainable. CHEM.UNC.EDU | 13


Marcey Waters wins Board of Governors’ award for excellence in teaching

By The Well In April 2020, The University of North Carolina System announced that Marcey Waters won the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors’ Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is the Glen H. Elder Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.

2020 Faculty promotions and awards

Waters is one of 17 outstanding faculty members to receive the 2020 Awards for Excellence in Teaching. The recipients, who represent all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, were nominated by special committees at each institution and selected by the Board of

Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs. “It is with great pride that we honor these impressive recipients,” said UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey. “Each of them brings a high standard of excellence in the classroom through creative teaching methods, making a real impact in how students learn.” “These awards provide us the opportunity to acknowledge outstanding work being done by some of the finest instructors our state has to offer,” said UNC System Interim President Bill Roper. “It represents the best of the UNC System and is another reminder of the high-quality education that our students receive.”

The Department of Chemistry is pleased to announce four faculty members received new appointments in this academic year. The promotions and distinguished term appointments, approved by the UNC Board of Trustees, were effective July 01, 2020. Promotion and Tenure is awarded to faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching, research and service to the University. Below are the promotion and tenure appointments awarded this year:

Matthew Lockett

Promotion to associate professor with tenure

Scott Warren

Promotion to associate professor with tenure

Distinguished term professors are recognized for their outstanding scholarship, research, and teaching. Below are the distinguished term appointments awarded this year:

Jillian Dempsey

David Nicewicz

The professorship bestows special recognition on a College of Arts and Sciences faculty member for their distinguished undergraduate teaching.

The professorship honors chemistry professor emeritus, Royce Murray. It recognizes an outstanding scholar, teacher and researcher in chemistry.

Recipient of the Bowman & Gordon Gray Term Professorship


Recipient of the Royce Murray Term Professorship

Leslie Hicks earns SfRBM 2020 Mentoring Excellence award By UNC-CH Chemistry Communication

including 5 postdoctoral fellows, 13 graduate students, 26 undergraduates, and 1 high school student.

Leslie Hicks, associate professor of chemistry, is the recipient of the Society for Redox Biology and Medicine’s (SfRBM) 2020 Mentoring Excellence Award.

While the nomination only allows for five submissions of letters of support, all lab members of the Hicks lab emphatically supported the nomination.

The SfRBM Mentoring Excellence Award recognizes outstanding mentorship as illustrated by a mentor’s encouragement of trainees in both academics and professional development, their promotion of work-life balance, the fostering of caring and respectful work environments and facilitating networking opportunities to advance trainee career goals both through conference attendance and personal connections. Hicks joined the faculty at the Department of Chemistry in 2013. Her research revolves around the novel implementation of mass spectrometry to enhance the understanding of biological systems. Her interests span the realm of peptidomics and proteomics, with applications in antibiotic resistance, natural product discovery and the delineation of phosphorylation and redox pathways. In the last seven years, Hicks has mentored 45 trainees,

Amanda Smythers, second year Ph.D. student in the Hicks lab, wrote in her nomination letter that Hicks provides incredible mentorship through a combination of using her success to the benefit of her mentees and providing opportunities for advancement. “There is a common trope in academia that to be successful, you must be cold-hearted, arrogant, or negligent – or some combination of the three,” Smythers wrote in her nomination letter. “Leslie stands as a clear contradiction to this idea; she pairs significant research achievements in bioanalytical chemistry with an unwavering dedication to student mentorship. Leslie uses her success to the benefit of graduate and undergraduate students alike, ensuring that underrepresented students are empowered to advance in science either by direct mentorship or through collaborations with other universities.”


Andrey Dobrynin, Mackenzie Distinguished Professor Andrey V. Dobrynin is Mackenzie Family Eminent Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. He received B.S. (1987) and Ph.D. (1991) degrees in Polymer Physics from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Moscow, Russia. Dobrynin is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, a POLY Fellow of American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymer Chemistry and member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.



Mike Ramsey named UNC-CH’s Inventor of the Year By Shellie Edge, Innovate Carolina To a young standout student who grew up on a farm in rural Ohio, faced an uncertain higher educational path and was once enamored with the notion of earning just one patent, the future reality of receiving 165 of them – not to mention founding three successful startups – might seem hard to believe.

Michael Ramsey showing the MX908TM, a handheld tool developed by 908 Devices, a company whose fundamental technology was developed by Ramsey, who serves as the firm’s scientific founder. First responders use the device to quickly detect chemical, explosive, drug and hazmat threats. (Photo by Sarah Daniels/ Innovate Carolina)

But looking back now, Michael Ramsey, Ph.D. points to the importance of learning to believe – both in himself and what his ideas could make possible – as critical to advancing science and the public good. Ramsey, who holds the Minnie N. Goldby Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, was honored as the recipient of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Inventor of the Year Award during the 2020 UNC Celebration of Inventorship on Sept. 10. He is also a faculty member in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences and UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering.

line seminar when they heard Ramsey speak about his work when he received the award, which is given each year to a UNC-Chapel Hill researcher in recognition of their contributions to inventions and patents. Presented by the UNC Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), which is part of the Vice Chancellor’s Office for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, the award honors the recipient’s commitment to the University’s culture of encouraging innovation, disseminating knowledge and promoting entrepreneurship.

An ongoing theme throughout Ramsey’s storied career, perseverance has created a pathway for his success as a researcher, innovator and entrepreneur. It’s a trait that will become particularly salient to attendees of the on-

“I remember starting out my career hoping I could just get one patent to put on my CV,” says Ramsey. “Receiving this recognition is an honor, and I appreciate being selected.” Over the last 30 years, Ramsey has


successfully launched three life science companies. He’s the scientific founder of Caliper Technologies, renamed Caliper Life Sciences and acquired by PerkinElmer for $600 million in 2011. He is also the scientific founder of venture-backed companies 908 Devices, a company developing revolutionary compact mass spectrometry and chemical separations-based products, and Genturi, a genomics tools provider.

was very important.”

Technologies he’s developed are broadly capable and are being employed in forensics and biotech applications. Handheld devices have been created that can detect most variants of fentanyl and other drugs well below their lethal levels to help front line workers combat the opioid crisis. His work has enabled compact analyzer that can be used next to a bioprocess reactor to monitor and control the process with insights never before practical. Through his curiosity and innovative mindset, Ramsey has persevered through challenges that would have discouraged many.

“I’ve always had staff scientists in my research group, in addition to graduate students and postdocs. These more senior researchers expand the capabilities of the group and allows us to simultaneously work on more diverse project,” he adds.

From his experience at ORNL, Ramsey was able to finetune ways in which he combines teams that will work together most effectively. While many academic research groups typically combine mostly graduate students with a few postdocs, Ramsey prefers to mix up experience levels within the group to further his capabilities.

Even with all his success, Ramsey has no plans of slowing down and is currently working on his fourth startup, Codetta Bio. His career path is one he may not have initially envisioned, but was a path forged by his persistent mindset. He’s come a long way from that first issued patent to list on his CV.

“Because I had no previous experience in the area of the problem we were trying to solve, it took me two years to raise the funding to start that initial research. I’ve had many proposals turned down and lots of people tell me that I had silly ideas, but you’ve got to believe in your ideas and persevere.”

“The first technology I worked on that resulted in patents was a microfabricated fluidic device to perform chemical separations, but I had no experience in either microfabrication or chemical separations,” he says. “Because I had no previous experience in the area of the problem we were trying to solve, it took me two years to raise the funding to start that initial research. I’ve had many proposals turned down and lots of people tell me that I had silly ideas, but you’ve got to believe in your ideas and persevere.” Ramsey encourages other entrepreneurs and innovators not only to persevere through the tough times but to get as many different perspectives as possible to make their ideas better. “While at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), there was a more senior person who had expertise in the area of the problem we were trying to solve, and I would talk with him frequently,” he says. “I’d ask, ‘Am I crazy? Is this really a silly idea?’ He’d give me supportive feedback and his opinion if it was an idea worth pursuing and that

“I grew up on a farm and wasn’t even sure I would go to college,” says Ramsey. “I didn’t even know what graduate school was until a professor brought it up to me and said, ‘I presume, you’re going to graduate school?’ I asked, ‘What’s that?’ I’ve just followed my interest step by step. Translating technology from academic research into the private sector is important, so without the support of the institutions I’ve worked for, that wouldn’t have happened,” he adds. Ramsey is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the Optical Society of America, the American Chemical Society and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. In addition, Ramsey has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and presented nearly 600 invited, plenary or named lectures. He has 165 issued and 15 pending patents.


STUDENT NEWS Grace Bergan and Lauren Lim named Goldwater Scholars By Jordan Schroeder, Honors Carolina Carolina Chemistry is pleased to announce two chemistry undergraduates are recipients of the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater. The scholarship is given to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Virginia native, Grace Bergan (pictured below), is a rising senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Russian Culture. Bergan has worked in several labs both at UNC and in summer internships at NIH and a biotech company called Seattle Genetics. Most recently, she has conducted a research project in the UNC-Chapel Hill laboratory of Ronald Gallant Distinguished Professor, Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, on the synthesis of complex organic molecules. Dr. Stephen Rogers, Associate Professor of Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill, says, “Grace Bergen is a talented young colleague with a strong record of research experience and a high trajectory for success in her scientific career.” Dr. Joel R. Courter of Seattle Genetics described Bergan as “…both the most talented experimentalist, as well as the most capable of communicating her results.” Bergan has already published as co-author on one manuscript. Bergan is interested in exploring the crossroads between organic chemistry and medicine, developing robust and efficient reactions using green techniques for biologically relevant molecules. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and then become a chemist in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry, poten18 | CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

tially combining her research and teaching aspirations as a professor at the university level. Originally from North Carolina, Lauren Lim (pictured left) is a rising junior and honors student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Chemistry. Lim is currently Vice President of the Undergraduate Research Society, providing mentorship to other undergraduates interested in research. She is also active in Alpha Chi Sigma, the professional chemistry fraternity, where she is involved in many of the science outreach and service events. Dr. Stephen Rogers, Associate Professor of Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill, describes Lim as a “burgeoning scientific talent,” who has accrued a significant amount of experience in the lab at a very early stage. Lim has worked in Professor Matthew Redinbo’s lab at UNC to study how the gut microbiome metabolizes estrogen. Understanding how the bacterial enzymes that process estrogens function will provide insights into disfunction of the microbiome can be induced by drugs to trigger toxic gastrointestinal effects. Lim also spent a summer at MIT in Robert Griffin’s lab using NMR to study the structures of amyloid proteins. Her contributions to this research program have led to her co-authorship on two publications, with more anticipated in the near future. Lim intends to pursue dual M.D/Ph.D. degrees to conduct research as a physician-scientist in biomedical science with a focus on the structure and function of proteins in diseases, such as the role of beta-amyloid protein in Alzheimer’s disease, in order to develop novel inhibitors to treat patients with such diseases. In addition to research, she intends to teach at the graduate or medical school level in order to share her knowledge and expertise with future generations so that they may be inspired to take up research themselves.

Alex Lin and Milan Patel earn awards for senior honors research thesis By Meghan Ketchie

cesses that occur in the body,” said Lin.

UNC Chemistry undergraduate students, Alex Lin and Milan Patel, were recently awarded Senior Honors Thesis awards by Honors Carolina. Lin received the Honors Carolina Excellence Senior Thesis Research Award and Patel received the Sarah Steele Danhoff Undergraduate Research Award, both in the amount of $500 to support their research.

Lin plans to pursue a career in academia as a professor so he can continue his research but also teach and mentor others. In this role, he wants to be an advocate for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Senior Honors Thesis projects allow students to cap their undergraduate experience by partnering with a faculty mentor to develop original research or creative work. Students who successfully defend their thesis before a faculty review panel graduate with Honors or Highest Honors. Alex Lin (pictured left) is a senior majoring in chemistry and a researcher in the Atkin Group. The Atkin Group develops and uses techniques based on atomic-force microscopy (AFM) combined with optical spectroscopy to understand how nanoscale structure underpins functionality in molecular and inorganic semiconductors, solar cellsw and biological systems. Lin is grateful for the support from his fellow lab members and his mentor, Prof. Joanna Atkin. This is the first merit award Lin has received. He is grateful for the sponsorship from the Honors College and will use the award to purchase new instrumentation for his experiments. “My research is about studying the self-assembly of biological molecules. By using a specialized technique called scattering scanning near-field optical microscopy, we can spatially resolve chemical differences at the nanometer level—that’s about 1000x smaller than the width of your hair. Studying the self-assembly of these molecules with our technique can give us more information about different fields such as developing new types of materials or understanding the biological pro-

“I would like to be an advocate for those who are deaf/ hard-of-hearing and are interested in pursuing a career in science, as I grew up bilingual in ASL and English.” Milan Patel (pictured left) is a senior majoring in chemistry and a researcher in the Dempsey Group. The Dempsey Group strives to develop fundamental science that enables new technological advances in energy, catalysis and optoelectronics. Patel is thankful for the support that Prof. Jillian Dempsey and fellow lab members have provided to him in his own research endeavors. Patel is honored to have received this award and will use it to pursue his research to the fullest extent. “My research is towards the understanding of electronic structure and electron transfer kinetics in titanium dioxide thin films in the hopes of improving their efficacy as photoanodes in photoelectrosynthesis cells. These cells use sunlight to generate solar fuels, a storable and renewable form of energy that shows much promise for future energy applications. I hope that my research leads to optimization of efficiency for these cells to benefit their potential future uses,” said Patel. Patel holds an interest in research in chemistry and plans to study atmospheric chemistry in graduate school. His career plans include attending graduate school and pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry. “I hope to study atmospheric chemistry and use my research as a tool towards solving environmental issues that currently face society and our planet.” CHEM.UNC.EDU | 19

STUDENT NEWS Erin Day and Ann Marie May awarded NDSEG Fellowships By UNC-CH Chemistry Communication UNC Chemistry doctoral students, Erin Day and Ann Marie May, were recently awarded the Department of Defense (DoD) National Defense Science and Engineering (NDSEG) Fellowships. The highly competitive fellowship program was established in 1989 by the direction of Congress and sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (OSD) for Research and Engineering. It recognizes graduate students in the science and engineering disciplines of military importance. NDSEG Fellowships last for a period of up to three years and covers full tuition Erin Day, third year doctoral student and mandatory fees. Fellows also receive a monthly stipend of $3,200 and an annual insurance stipend. in the Knight Group As a child, Erin Day had a love for mathematics. In combination with a positive and supportive experience while completing her B.S. in Chemistry from the College of Charleston, Day knew she wanted to continue with a career in scientific research. “I loved math as a child, and I appreciated the creative problem-solving skills that are necessary for science experiments,” said Day. “The chemistry department at the College of Charleston was so supportive and fostered a sense of scientific wonder in each of the students. That made me want to continue a career in scientific research.” Day is now a third year doctoral student in the Knight Group. The Knight Group aims to innovate at the interface of polymer chemistry, chemical biology, and organic chemistry through the design of synthetic nanomaterials that target challenges in global health and sustainability. “Erin is one of my first graduate students, and she’s been instrumental in kickstarting my research group from managing instrumentation, engaging in collaborations, and mentoring more junior students. She undoubtedly deserves the recognition from NDSEG of her hard work thus far, and we look forward to the opportunities it will provide in catalyzing her interdisciplinary research at the interface of polymer chemistry and chemical biology,” said Abigail Knight, assistant professor of chemistry and principal investigator of the Knight Group. For Day, becoming a NDSEG fellow was truly a bright spot since the pandemic struck. “It was very surreal to receive the email notification while home alone in April,” said Day. “I was thrilled to receive exciting and good news during this wild time we are living through.” The award will allow Day to focus her time on her research in the Knight Group and continue mentoring junior students in the lab. Day’s career interests are in sustainable chemistry within the fast-moving consumer goods market and the development of low-resource diagnostics. Following the completion of her Ph.D. in Chemistry, Day plans to work for a company in the chemical industry that matches her career interests. 20 | CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

From an early age, Ann Marie May knew she wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to work on addressing global climate change. “As a resident of coastal Virginia, I noticed from an early age the negative impacts of global climate change on my community. I watched as ocean acidification destroyed oyster populations and daily tidal flooding worsened, inAnn Marie May, second spiring me to find routes to year doctoral student in the combat their impacts on my Dempsey Group community. From these interests stemmed my passion for chemistry, as many environmental problems our world faces (like global climate change) are of a chemical nature. In pursuit of these goals, I have dedicated my undergraduate and graduate research to explore routes toward environmental sustainability and accessible clean, green energy sources,” said May. May earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Virginia Tech and is now a second year doctoral student in the Dempsey Group. Research in the Dempsey Group aims to address challenges associated with developing efficient solar energy conversion processes. “Ann Marie is poised to carry out transformative research that challenges the way we think about how to use sunlight to drive fuel production. Her recognition with this fellowship is richly deserved and will give her new opportunities and freedom in her graduate work,” said Jillian Dempsey, Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor and principal investigator of the Dempsey Group. May’s research in the Dempsey Group focuses on exploring new pathways for solar fuel generation and artificial photosynthesis. “The goal of my research is to integrate light absorption and chemical reactivity into a single compound to subsequently form metal hydrides – key intermediates in a variety of fuel-forming reactions,” said May. “By exploring the fundamental steps of these processes, I will uncover new information for generating metal hydrides and thereby aid in next-generation photocatalyst design.” Ecstatic to be a NDSEG Fellow, support from the NDSEG will enable May to further develop her research skills, facilitate her involvement in educational outreach, and spearhead her pursuit of creative solutions to energy and climate centric issues – the very topic that sparked her interest in pursuing a career in chemistry.

11 Chemistry students earn NSF fellowships 11 UNC Chemistry students have earned prestigious graduate research fellowships from the NSF. The fellowship program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. This year, UNC Chemistry is proud to announce 11 Chemistry students who are recipients of this prestigious fellowship:

Graduate Students: Jessica Coleman, Warren Group Sondrica Goines, Dick Group Caitlin Johnson, Erie Group Lauren McRae, Warren Group Patric Sadecki, Hicks Group Josh Simpson, Redinbo Group Sarah Sutton, Papanikolas Group Christopher Travis, Waters Group Undergraduate Students: Caleb Cox, Knight Group Zhi-Wei Lin, Lockett Group Kunal Lodaya, Dempsey Group

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Laura Yurco named UNC’s Manager of the Year By UNC-CH Chemistry Communication

UNC Chemistry is pleased to announce Laura Yurco, MBA, has been named UNC’s Manager of the Year. Sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill’s University Managers Association (UMA), the Manager of the Year award is based on University career accomplishments, both within and beyond normal job responsibilities, or a specific accomplishment made within the previous twelve months that has been of major significance. “It is an absolute honor to have received this award and I am thankful for those that took the time to write a nomination for me. It would not have been possible without the guidance of several great managers and the support of those I work with now.” Yurco said. “To celebrate I did a little celebration dance and song with my daughter after I found out!” Laura joined Chemistry in 2017 with over 13 years of experience with the University. “I started at the University in 2004 as a wide-eyed new graduate not knowing the experience I would gain over the next 15 years at the university. I worked my way up from School of Public Health, School of Medicine’s department of Otolaryngology and then on to the College of Arts and Sciences, in Psychology, Dean’s Office and now Chemistry. The variety of jobs, bosses and areas of the university has given me a diversity of experiences to help me more effectively deal with many different situations and personalities. These experiences have served me well in guiding my role as a manager and leader, very important aspects of my job.” Laura has now worked with the department for over two years as Associate Chair for Business Administration. “I have been in the Department of Chemistry almost 22 | CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

2-1/2 years and enjoy being surrounded by such a collaborative and intelligent group of people,” Yurco said. “My role is responsible for overseeing the administration of the department. I oversee current business processes, provide recommendations and implement process improvements, determine cost saving strategies, maximize resources and lead organizational strategic initiatives. My favorite part of my job is being able to make strategic changes that result in positive improvements to the department, I really enjoy opportunities to make things better!” The Department is housed in seven buildings on campus with six divisions of research. Faculty and staff in the department shared their experiences working with Laura and why she is deserving of this award: “The word that has always stuck with me from a recommendation letter at the time we interviewed Laura is unflappable. That trait has been on display constantly from day 1. Surprise deadline in three hours? No problem. Administrative miracle needed? Think Flutie to Phelan as the clock expires. High functioning team needed for complex, multifaceted tasks? Check. Laura simply gets it done and with a smile and unhurried demeanor that never gives away how quickly she’s chipping away at the problems and moving the needle. She’s fun and easy to work with, and it’s wonderful to see her get this well-deserved recognition,” said Jeff Johnson, A. Ronald Gallant Distinguished Professor & former department chair. “Laura has certainly helped in making my transition to UNC a smooth one! I’m very thankful for Laura’s hands on approach. She has such a wonderfully warm and pleasant demeanor and makes it such a joy to work under her leadership.” said Gail Harris, Administrative Support Associate.

Fred Young wins the Chemistry Extra Mile Award for ‘going the extra mile’ By UNC-CH Chemistry Communication Fred Young, Department Facilities Maintenance Technician, is the recipient of the 2020 Chemistry Extra Mile Award. The annual departmental award recognizes an individual for nurturing a positive environment, demonstrating crisis leadership, embracing collaborative problem solving and encouraging team-thinking. Young goes the extra mile in so many ways and his efforts are appreciated by faculty, staff, students and postdocs. As stated by Associate Chair Ralph House, “Fred has been my eyes and ears in the department during suspended operations, and I’m not sure how we would have functioned without him. Whenever I make suggestions, he often contributes thoughts and ideas that are far better than mine. Fred really cares about his role in the department and we are incredibly lucky to have him.” As stated by Associate Chair Laura Yurco, “Fred is an asset to the department and any time I request something be done, I know he will get it done quickly, efficiently and enthusiastically. Often he anticipates needs beyond what I am requesting and goes the extra mile. I am so glad to have him as part of the Chemistry team!”

Debbie Norton retires after 23 years of service to Chemistry

Nancy Ray retires after 30 years of service to UNC Chapel Hill

In 1997, Debbie joined Carolina Chemistry in a supporting role to Prof. Royce Murray. In July 2020, Debbie retired from the position of Clerical Team Leader & Manager.

Nancy joined UNC Chapel Hill in 1990. At Carolina Chemistry, she handled the onboarding, daily management, and off-boarding of faculty, staff and postdocs. Nancy retired from her role as Human Resources Manager in September 2020.


Courtney Hite | Executive Assistant to CHASE

Alice Zhao | Public Communication Specialist

Courtney previously held administrative positions in the UNC School of Media and Journalism and at the UNC School of Nursing. Courtney will be the primary administrative point of contact for CHASE Solar Fuels Hub.

Alice is responsible for the internal and external communication efforts for the department. She promotes the activities and initiatives in the department through producing content on traditional and digital media platforms. CHEM.UNC.EDU | 23

WHY I GIVE GIVING BACK: ROBERT WILLIAMS ’75 While a Microsoft employee, I had the opportunity to work with Bill Gates on the annual Microsoft Giving Campaign. As you almost certainly know, Bill is a huge believer in the power and virtue of philanthropy. You probably do not know that Bill’s thinking was strongly influenced by his mother Mary, who was the long-time chairperson of the King County United Way. One belief Bill shared with us is that giving is a learned behavior. In some ways, it runs counter to our Darwinian survival of the fittest genetic code.

ployees and tried to educate and groom them for a lifetime of giving, even though their financial situation did not allow them to throw big bucks into our campaign in that specific year. I found this thinking to be consistent with my experience. My wife and I give because our parents taught us to share with those less fortunate and with causes in which we believe in. We give for a variety of reasons, but honoring the legacy and teachings of our parents, and hopefully showing the way for our children, is one of our primary reasons.

At Microsoft, we did not overly focus on the highly compensated employees that could be counted on to give the max every year. We focused on young and new em-

The power of the University of North Carolina to help students reach their full potential has a huge impact on students from all backgrounds.

GIVE THE GIFT OF EDUCATION The Say Yes Funds allows the Chair to ‘Say Yes!’ to special and often urgent requests from Chemistry Faculty, Graduate Students and Postdocs for small amounts of support, which contribute greatly to their research and education. By Saying “Yes!” many new and exciting ideas have ignited for Chemistry education and research. The funds enabled faculty and graduate students to attend scientific conferences which may not have been possible without your support. 24 | CHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

New ideas sparked and collaborations formed that may have otherwise gone undiscovered. Initiatives born out of this support include the establishment of the cyclic voltammetry bootcamp, experiential learning in electrochemistry classes, a place at the table for the communicating science conference of the triangle, and a cross-divisional scientific competition to develop the “New Big Idea.” Your gifts to the “Say Yes” fund have already provided so many wonderful opportunities for our students and faculty. With your help, we can bring in the new year with the support needed for an exciting future ahead. Say Yes to Chemistry by contributing today, even the smallest gift will make a tremendous difference.

The Department of Chemistry and Professor Slayton Evans, had a huge impact on my life. I was one of those more casual undergraduate students that could learn almost anything but could not be bothered if it did not interest me. I loved doing research and taking graduate student chemistry courses, but I was in no danger of graduating Phi Beta Kappa. Probably more in danger of not graduating. Slayton Evans came to know me while I was doing research in Professor Ernie Eliel’s lab as a junior. He was new and had no graduate students. He asked me to be the first person to join his research group, assuring me that he had already negotiated with Professor Eliel. Slayton pushed me awfully hard. He gave me the opportunity, and appropriately challenged me, to commit and show what I could do. The rest of the department, especially Bob McKee, was strongly behind undergraduate research and did their part to help our small crew of BS Chem majors develop our potential and find our way. It was also great fun. I remember playing basketball, softball and fishing with Slayton and Spence McCachren, who was also doing undergraduate research in Slayton’s lab. Slayton, a former college basketball player, was 6’6” and had a big wingspan. He made me look good as a third baseman on our intramural softball team. Even though I was a bit wild, it was almost impossible to throw a ball to first base so far off target that Slayton could not get it.

My wife and I want to help maintain the Chemistry Department tradition of investing deeply in students and postdocs and helping them realize their true potential. We have donated in Slayton’s name and in Ernie Eliel’s name. Recently, we have been donating to the Chair’s Say Yes Fund. We believe supporting Chairman You with discretionary funds that he can quickly deploy as he sees opportunities, without a lot of paperwork and overhead, is an effective use of our donation. Last year, our donation went to support the SWELL initiative around graduate student health and wellness. It is not surprising that the Chemistry Department is leading the University, and perhaps the country, in new initiatives of this nature. We are delighted to be a small part of it. Thank you UNC for giving us the opportunity to participate, and thank you to the readers for making it to the end of this missive. As Mark Twain famously said, I did not have time to write a shorter one. Go Heels!

Robert Williams Ph.D. Organometallic Chemistry

The “Say Yes” fund in Chemistry allows the Department Chairperson to say “YES” to special and often urgent requests from faculty and students for small amounts of support, which contribute greatly to their research and education. Even your smallest gift will make a tremendous difference in the Chair’s ability to support our outstanding faculty and students. Please scan the QR code to help our Chair say “YES!” Your continued support is greatly appreciated. Thank you! To learn more about gift options, please contact Colleen Sisneros, Senior Director of Development: Colleen Sisneros Senior Director of Development | The Arts & Sciences Foundation E-mail: Phone: 919-962-6182

Say “Yes” to Chemistry today! Use your phone or tablet camera to scan the QR code!



PAUL JOSEPH KROPP June 29, 1935 - June 05, 2020



rofessor emeritus, Paul Joseph Kropp, passed away on June 5, 2020, at Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill after a brief illness. He was born on June 29, 1935, in Springfield, Ohio to Paul and Loretta Kropp. Kropp was high school valedictorian, a maxima cum laude graduate of Notre Dame University, and, in 1960, earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin. Upon completing his postdoctoral training at Stanford University, Paul headed to Cincinnati, Ohio to begin his career as a Research Chemist at Proctor & Gamble. In 1970, Kropp moved to the east coast to join the faculty at Carolina Chemistry. Kropp’s major research focus was mechanistic and synthetic organic photochemistry. He was best known for his path breaking advances in generating high energy organic intermediates through photocleavage of carbon halogen bonds. Throughout his career, he contributed over 100 publications.

An image of Prof. Paul Kropp smiling for the camera in 1980, the year that marked a decade of his career as a professor and researcher at UNC. [Paul Kropp in June 1980], in the News Services of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40139, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Kropp was a very well organized and fastidious individual. His dedication and commitment to teaching was evident. He is the recipient of the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Johnson Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Edward Kidder Graham Outstanding Faculty Award. Kropp taught chemistry at UNC-CH for 46 years. He was an inspiration, mentor and friend to his students and colleagues, “I remember Dr. Kropp. He was a fantastic teacher for CHEM 62. He was one of the nicest professors I met at UNC. I respected, admired, and genuinely liked him,” said Michelle Rider ’94. “Paul Kropp was a colleague who genuinely loved and cared for people, especially his students. The Image of Prof. Paul Kropp at his desk, located in Kenan Labs, in 1982. [Paul Kropp in June 1982], in the News Services of the University of North way he interacted with students both in class and, Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40139, University Archives, Wilson Library, especially, out of class was unique and a product of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. his deep faith-born desire to show Christ’s love to all,” said Todd Austell, teaching professor and associate director of undergraduate studies. “As a friend and colleague, he treated me the same way on a daily basis. I will miss him greatly,” Kropp retired from the department in 2006. Following retirement, Kropp remained an active member of the department by regularly attending faculty meetings and continued to teach Chemistry courses when the need arose. A memorial service was held at the Newman Catholic Student Center.

Pictured left: [Paul Kropp], in the News Services of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40139, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. CHEM.UNC.EDU | 27

Department of Chemistry University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Campus Box 3290 919-843-7100

Give the Gift of Education! Your gifts to the “Say Yes” fund provide so many wonderful opportunities to our students and faculty. With your help, we can bring in the new year with the support needed for an exciting future ahead. To make a gift today, you may use your phone or tablet camera to scan the QR code or visit We thank you in advance for saying “Yes” to chemistry!

To learn more about gift options, please contact Colleen Sisneros, Senior Director of Development at or 919-962-6182.

Donn Young/UNC College of Arts & Sciences

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