WCC Rising Stars Symposium, Spring ACS National Meeting, April 7, 2021


The WCC Rising Stars Symposium took place virtually on April 7 at the 2021 Spring ACS National Meeting. Each year, up to 10 outstanding individuals approaching mid-career who have demonstrated outstanding promise are recognized for their contributions to their field. Awardees detailed their difficulties and challenges in their career journeys, and how they navigated and ultimately surmounted these challenges to develop successful careers. Because the 2020 Spring ACS National Meeting was completely canceled due to COVID, awardees from both 2020 and 2021 were honored at this event. The symposium was organized and chaired by Maureen Kane, who did an excellent job of running this year’s complex marathon symposium session honoring two full years’ of awardees in one day, and the networking meet-and-greet, all on a virtual platform.

Jessica Reiner, PhD (2021), a research chemist in the Biochemical and Exposure Science Group at the National Institutes of Science and Technology, discussed her journey from chemistry in high school to geological oceanography research in college, to her postdoctoral position at the EPA in her talk entitled “From high school chemistry to becoming a research chemist at NIST”.

Abby R. O’Connor, PhD (2021), Associate Professor of Chemistry at the College of new Jersey, in her talk “Using inclusive teaching strategies, green chemistry, and catalysis to inspire undergraduate students at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)” discussed her experiences as a first generation college student and her path to teaching at a primarily undergraduate institution. Her work focuses on the development of more sustainable approaches to the production of chemicals using air and moisture-tolerant catalysts, and she makes hands-on research more accessible to her students using the  classroom-based authentic research experience (CURE) approach.

Danielle Schultz, PhD (2021), Associate Principal Scientist in Process Research and Development at Merck, was a first generation college student. In her presentation “Fueling collaboration and innovation by never finding your way out of the woods”, talked about her beginnings from a small northern Wisconsin town, through graduate school on the east coast, to her current position at Merck. She actively seeks collaborations with early career female professors and strives to mentor younger female scientists.

Amy C. Hart, PhD (2020), at Bristol Meyers Squibb discussed her experiences as a female scientist in “Adventures with kinases – it’s all about the starting point”. She talked about the strategies pursued in different kinase programs to identify key potent chemotypes.

Julie Champion, PhD (2021), Associate Professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, gave a talk entitled “Proteins: The basis for functional materials and mentoring students”. She discussed her path to her current position, her meaningful impact on her students by mentoring them to continue working in careers that  benefit society and individuals, and her approach toward diversifying STEM.

Jennifer Heemstra, PhD (2021), Associate Professor of Chemistry at Emory University gave a talk entitles “Biomolecules do amazing things and I get to work with amazing people”. She talked about her work in harnessing biomolecules properties of molecular recognition and self-assembly. She also talked about her motivation to become a chemist because of her love of the work, but relayed the rewarding aspect of building of relationships, developing an inclusive environment focused on mentoring, leadership, and professional development.

Leslie Hicks, PhD (2020) of UNC Chapel Hill, recounted her nontraditional route to her career and her work to discover novel antimicrobial natural products in “Investigating plant-derived antimicrobial peptides using PepSAVI-MS”.

Emily Pentzer, PhD (2021), Associate Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, discussed her path from trapping and tagging squirrels in a biology project as an undergraduate at Butler University, to her future in chemistry research and polymer science, in her talk entitled “Why I stopped trapping squirrels and started making molecules”

Christina Aikens, PhD (2020) of Kansas State University talk was titled “Unraveling nanocluster properties using theoretical methods” and covered her pathway to her current position, her influences and mentoring, and her research group’s work in gold and silver nanoclusters.

Heather Spinney, PhD (2021), research scientist at Core R&D at Dow, talked about her unexpected path from rural Canada through postdoctoral work in the US to her present job at Dow in her talk “Industrial catalysis research: The fundamental things apply”.

Anne Bentley, PhD (2020), Associate Professor and Department Chair of Chemistry at Lewis and Clark University, talked about effective ways to bridge students from classroom to research in “Hybridized research and teaching in inorganic chemistry”.  She highlighted the Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists (IONiC) and its associated website, the Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource (VIPEr).

Fateme Rezaei, PhD (2021), Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical & Biochemical Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, talked about her approach to mitigating global warming by using CO2 as a feedstock for synthesis of ethylene in her lecture  “Dual function adsorbent-catalyst materials for integrated CO2 capture and utilization”.

Corinne Lipscomb, PhD (2020) Materials Informatics People and Project Leader at 3M, gave a talk entitled “From PSAs to digital development tools, one chemist’s sustainability story”. She discussed the evolution of her career from developing biobased chemistry for pressure adhesive applications, to developing digital tool to speed up materials research.

Kayla N. Green, PhD (2020) of Texas Christian University, in “Small and intimidating: A balancing act for designing molecules to target oxidative stress”, talked about her approaches to correct an imbalance in reactive oxygen species and antioxidant pathways in the brain as a way to combat neurodegenerative diseases. Her group has honed the activity of pyridinophane small molecules through rational design toward this goal.

Yeon-Hee Lim, PhD (2021) Director, Discovery Chemistry at Merck talked about her personal growth and important lessons learned while at Merck in “Embrace ambiguity in life and drug discovery: Chem is not cry, but “try””.

Mou Paul, PhD (2020) of Dow Chemical discussed her career evolution from water purification and fuel cell membranes, to product and application development in food and specialty packaging, infrastructure, and transport industries, to solutions for the burgeoning problem of waste plastics in “My journey with functional polymers”.

Ayanna Shoulds, PhD (2020) of Corteva Agriscience discussed her pathway through her education and her successes in analytical methodology development in “Implementation and optimization of HILIC HPLC-MRM method for polar metabolites”.

Katherine L. Hull, PhD (2020) of Aramco Research Center in Houston detailed her nonlinear personal and technical path as well as her struggle, openness, and resilience through the challenges of working in both process chemistry and production technology development in “Upstream petroleum production technologies: A chemist’s journey and perspective”.

Francesca Maria Toma, PhD (2021), Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, discussed her challenges and successes in energy research in her talk, “A portrait of functional complex interfaces”.

The symposium ended with a social hour, where attendees could meet and talk with the 2020 and 2021 awardees.

We enthusiastically congratulate our 2020 and 2021 WCC Rising Stars as inspirations for resilience, tenacity, hard work, and success.

Article by Anna Sromek