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News and Highlights

From the Chemistry Department

Four graduate students receive prestigious Graduate Continuing Fellowship awards

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is proud to announce that four of our graduate students received prestigious Graduate Continuing Fellowship awards for the 2011-2012 academic year.  The competition involves over 240 nominations from across campus, with most programs limited to nominating just three of their best students. Only about 100 major continuing fellowship awards are made annually to the entire population of 11,000 graduate students. Faculty review panels evaluate the applications based on the major accomplishments of the candidates during their time at the University of Texas, with the criteria being excellent academic performance, outstanding scholarly progress, a well-articulated plan of research, a strong personal statement, and excellent letters of recommendation.  Three of the four awards received by our students were among the top tier Named Endowed Fellowships.



Julie Wilkerson – William S. Livingston Graduate Fellowship recipient



Julie Wilkerson received a B.S. in Chemistry in May 2008 from the University of Texas at Austin and entered the graduate program at UT in August of that year.  Her doctoral supervisor is Dr. Richard Jones and her research is based on designing and preparing conducting lanthanide-containing metallopolymers.  These polymers are conductive materials that synthetically incorporate metal centers for applications related to solid-state light, such as polymer light emitting diodes (PLEDs). These hybrid materials are able to harness the beneficial properties of traditional inorganic materials (catalysis, optics, and electronics) in an easily processable polymer form. Wilkerson notes that while graduate school requires a lot of work she feels that earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry is essential for her professional growth and career aspirations. Wilkerson’s goal has been to graduate in four years, which she hopes to achieve in May 2012 due to her committed effort and persistence in the lab.




Kelly Wiggins – Homer Lindsey Bruce Graduate Fellowship recipient


Kelly Wiggins joined the chemistry program in the fall of 2008 after earning her BA from Austin College in Sherman, Texas. She currently works with Dr. Christopher Bielawski where her research is focused on understanding how mechanical force can be used to alter chemical reactivity. Ms. Wiggins asks the question:  “if we could grab onto a molecule and twist, stretch or compress it, could we force the molecule to give a desired outcome or change its reactivity?”  To accomplish this goal, she uses polymers as handles to apply force to small molecules. This force causes a molecular transformation or chemical reaction of the small molecule that typically cannot be accomplished using other stimuli, like heat or light. Wiggins explains that the commitment, passion, and creativity her lab mates bring to their research inspires her and when she graduates she wants to pursue a teaching career at a small college.



MengMeng Zhang – William C. Powers Graduate Fellowship recipient


MengMeng Zhang received her undergraduate degree from Shanghai Jiaotong University in China and entered the UT Biochemistry program in the fall of 2008. She works with Dr. Yan (Jessie) Zhang's group where her research focuses on finding small molecules to combat neurodegenerative diseases. Zhang defines neurodegeneration as a process in which neurons (such as brain cells) progressively lose their structures or functions. This process can lead to many severe neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s. Zhang’s experience at UT has been a positive one. She’s inspired by the academic environment at UT and her personal hope for a better tomorrow arising from scientific discoveries applied to human problems.


Amanda Hughes – Graduate School Continuing Fellowship recipient


Amanda Hughes came to us from the Georgia Institute of Technology where she obtained a B.S. in Chemistry in 2008. Hughes entered the UT Biochemistry graduate program in fall of that year and currently works with Dr. Adrian Keatinge-Clay. Her research focuses on the enzymatic synthesis of small organic compounds using enzymes found in many different types of soil bacteria. These enzymes are responsible for the synthesis of different antibiotics, which the bacteria secrete to kill other invading bacteria. Hughes’ work is based on harnessing these enzymes to make new small molecules with the hopes of forming a small molecule library of compounds.  She finds inspiration in her research and fellow lab mates.  Hughes also finds the PI (principle investigator) influences how each student can become inspired by innovative research. Her PI pushes her academically and still gives her enough room to be creative in designing new projects.


These fellowship recipients represent the best and brightest in our graduate program.  Their hard work, self-motivation, and imaginative thinking has propelled them to the top of their fields, and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry applauds these graduate students and others who will follow in their footsteps and be inspired by the tremendous accmplishments of these four.


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