top row l-r: Amy Solinski, Sophia Robinson, Agnes Thorarinsdottir, Summer Dockrey; bottom row l-r: Gozde Demirer, Jaqueline Carozza, Van Tran, Tiffany Chen
The fourth annual WCC Merck Research Award Symposium was held on Sunday August 25, 2019. The symposium highlights outstanding research work of 3rd and 4th-year graduate students. The WCC is pleased to continue to partner with Merck and acknowledges Merck for its generous support of the WCC Merck Research Awards program. In addition to attending the San Diego conference and making a technical presentation, each winner is paired with a Merck employee to mentor her through her career. Eight graduate students who excelled in their research were selected from a strong pool of over one hundred and twenty applicants for the 2019 award. The symposium featured talks in a variety of fields including chemical biology, synthetic organic chemistry, biomolecular engineering, and computational chemistry. In addition to the winners, Dr. Helen Mitchell, Director – TECh (Technology Enabled Chemistry) at Merck & Co., Inc spoke about her career path, examples of drug development at Merck, and newer innovative approaches for accelerated drug discovery.
The first symposium speaker, Jacqueline Carozza from Stanford University discussed her investigation of biochemical mechanisms that could lead to the development of new cancer treatments. Jacqueline was followed by Amy Solinski from Emory University. Amy’s research explores the synthesis of natural products to inspire the next generation of antibiotics. The third speaker, Gozde Demirer from UC Berkeley, highlighted the development of carbon nanotubes as a delivery platform for plants and its benefits to crop production. Motivated by improving energy storage in batteries, Sophia Robinson from the University of Utah discussed her work designing ways to predict nonaqueous solubility to streamline the identification of oligomers with enhanced properties. Agnes Thorarinsdottir from Northwestern University discussed her success in achieving significant increases in pH sensitivity and signal intensity leading to improvements in the use of MRI probes as a diagnostic tool. The first of the three final talks was given by Summer Baker Dockrey from the University of Michigan. Summer reviewed her work on synthetic approaches using flavin-dependent biocatalytic methods. The next speaker was Van Tran from the Scripps Research Institute. Van illustrated the use of catalysis to selectively activate C-C and C-N bonds. Her work interest focuses on the synthesis of complex high value molecules from small organic molecules. Following Van was the last speaker, Tiffany Chen from Princeton University. Tiffany discussed the development of new techniques that enable the formation of C–C bonds through metallaphotoredox catalysis to build more complex molecules for medicinal purposes.
The 2019 Merck Symposium was well attended with over 70 participants, including students, general members and several Merck representatives including Erin DiMauro, Executive Director – Discovery Chemistry at Merck. Erin has been a strong supporter of the program and serves as the liaison between WCC and Merck. To celebrate their accomplishments, the winners were honored at a luncheon immediately following the symposium. During the luncheon the winners had an opportunity to network with other awardees, WCC members and Merck scientists in attendance. Applications for the 2020 award are due December 1.