by Despina Strong and Yeon-Hee Lim



The eighth annual WCC Merck Research Award Symposium, hosted on Sunday, August 13, 2023, recognized eight outstanding and talented 3rd and 4th year graduate students. The award winners came together in person to present their research at the 2023 Fall Hybrid ACS National Meeting. The eight award winners were selected from a remarkable 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.

Mikaela DiBello kicked off the first session of the symposium. Mikaela is a Ph.D. candidate in organic chemistry at Yale University in Dr. Seth Herzon’s research group. She presented her research on “Total synthesis of the monomeric unit of Lomaiviticin A and studies towards the dimeric natural product” Mikaela, take it a way!

The second speaker, Alyah Chmiel, a Ph D candidate in organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Dr. Zhachary Wickens research group. She presented her work on “Potent photoreductants for organic synthesis”.

The next speaker was Manxi Yang, a Ph.D. candidate in analytical chemistry at Purdue University in Dr. Julia Laskin’s research group. She presented her work titled “imaging of proteoforms in biological tissues using ambient ionization mass spectrometry with cellular level spatial resolution”.

The fourth speaker, Emily Wearing, a PhD candidate in organic chemistry at the University of Michigan in Dr. Corinna Schindler’s research group. She presented her work on “Overcoming limitations in visible light mediated aza Paterno-Buchi reactions”.

To close the first session, Amanda Graboski, a PhD candidate in Pharmacology at the university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Dr. Matthew Redinbo’s research group. She presented her research on “Discovery and Characterization of a gut microbial tryptophanase inhibitor to ameliorate chronic kidney disease”.

The second session of the symposium was started by keynote speaker, Dr. Erin DiMauro, is an Executive Director of Discovery Chemistry at Merck, where she is an organization and portfolio leader of diverse teams, spanning early target identification and validation through lead optimization and early clinical development. Erin’s teams work collaboratively across modalities to deliver novel medicines in the therapeutic areas of oncology, immunology, and neuroscience.  Erin has co-authored > 50 published manuscripts and is an inventor on several patents and patent applications.  She started her inspiring talk by discussing her life, her career, and how it ultimately led her to the “Reflections on career journey and case studies from Merck Discovery efforts towards treating neurodegenerative diseases”.

Following Erin’s talk was Christine Hamadani is a Ph.D. candidate in physical chemistry at the University of Mississippi in Dr. Eden E. L. Tanner’s laboratory. She presented her work titled “Investigation of Linear-Dendritic Block Copolymers (LDBC) assembly with biocompatible ionic liquids for selective red blood cell hitchhiking in situ”.

The seventh speaker, Aishanee Sur is a Ph.D. candidate in inorganic Synthesis at Texas A&M University in Dr. David C. Powers’ laboratory. She presented her research on “Zr-based porous-salt thin films: A new platform for heterogeneous photochemistry and in Operano kinetic monitoring”.

The last speaker of the symposium was Vivian Zhang, an M.D.- Ph.D. candidate in Organic Chemistry at Northwestern University in Dr. Julia A. Kalow’s laboratory. She ended the symposium with an amazing talk titled “Tailoring Dynamic Hydrogels by Controlling Associative Exchange Rates”.

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 2024 award are due December 1st. Please go to our webpage at for more information.