2022 Women Chemist Committee (WCC) Merck Research Award Symposium

written by: Ana Arteaga

The seventh annual WCC Merck Research Award Symposium, hosted on Sunday, August 21, 2022, recognized eight outstanding and talented graduate students. The award winners came together in person for the first time since 2019 to present their research at the 2022 Fall ACS Meeting. The eight award winners were selected from a strong pool of over one hundred applicants, in organic, medicinal, analytical, chemical biology, inorganic, computational or structural chemistry. In addition to a stellar scientific record, the award recipients are actively involved in their community as volunteers and leaders.

Maria Adrover Castellano, a Ph.D. candidate in Chemical Biology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in Dr. David Sherman’s research group kicked off the symposium. She presented her research on “Enhancing diversification of macrolactones by directed evolution of PKS cyclase (TE) domains”.

The second speaker, Xizi (Kelsey) Zhang, is a Ph.D. candidate in Chemical Biology at the University of California, Berkeley in Dr. Alanna Schepartz laboratory. Xizi gave an amazing talk titled “Dose-dependent nuclear delivery and transcriptional repression with a cell-penetrant MeCP2”.

The next speaker was Maria Camila Aguilera, a Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry at the University of Rochester in Dr. Michael Neidig’s laboratory. Maria Camilla presented her work on “Understanding the Reactivity of Iron-Bisphosphine Species in Two- and Three- Component Cross-Coupling Reactions”.

The fourth speaker, Dr. Irene Mulloy Manning, a recent graduate from Dr. Frank Laifarth’s research group from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill presented her work on “Ionic Fluorogels for remediation of PFAS from water”.

To close the first session, Rachel Z. Huang a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University in Drs. Zhenan Bao and Yi Cui’s laboratories presented her work on “Solving a metallic issue with organic (macro)molecules”.

The second session of the symposium was started by keynote speaker, Dr. Erin Guidry, a Texas A&M University (bachelors) and California Institute of Technology (Ph.D.) graduate. Erin is the Executive Director of the Oral Formulation Science Group at Merck. During her tenure at Merck, Erin has had interdisciplinary experiences across chemistry and pharmaceutical science working on a wide range of modalities. Erin is a champion for developing talent, fostering inclusion and creating a positive work culture and she has been an active leader within the Women in Chemistry Network at Merck. Erin beautiful interwove her personal life and career in her talk titled “Owning your career: Personal reflections on creating a rewarding and successful career in industry”.

Following Erin’s talk was Sara Dibrell, a Ph.D. candidate in Organic Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology in Dr. Sarah Reisma’s laboratory. She presented her work titled “Synthetic studies toward cassiabudanol”.

The seventh speaker, Olivia Garry, is a Ph.D. candidate in Organic Synthesis at Princeton University in Dr. David MacMillan’s laboratory. She presented her research on “Synthesis of strained polycyclic scaffolds by photoredox catalysis”.

The last speaker of the symposium was Alena Vasquez, a Ph.D. candidate in Organic Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in Dr. Keary Engle’s laboratory. She ended the symposium with an amazing talk titled “Enantioselective palladium catalyzed alpha-hydroarylation of alpha,beta-unsaturated carbonyl compounds via an interrupted hydrodehalogenation mechanism”.

To wrap up the successful symposium, award winners, their mentors, and Merck and WCC guests were invited to attend the ACS WCC Merck Award Luncheon. Here, the invited guests had the opportunity to network and have more personalized conversation.

The WCC is pleased to continue to partner with Merck and acknowledges Merck for its generous support of the WCC Merck Research Award program. In addition to receiving financial support, each winner is paired with a Merck employee to mentor her through her career. Applications for the 2023 award are due December 1st. Please go to our webpage at https://acswcc.org/awards/merck-research-award/ for more information.

Article by Anna Sromek