Alumni Highlight: Aaron Kunzer

We had our Research and Award symposium last Friday (review of that coming soon!) to celebrate our students, particularly our soon-to-be alumni! In view of this, we recently chatted with one of our Alumni, Aaron Kunzer, currently a Senior Medicinal Chemist in the area of Oncology Discovery at AbbVie.

Here’s what he said in our Q&A:

 

Aaron Kunzer

What degree did you obtain from DePaul and what did you do immediately afterwards (go into another degree program, go into the workforce, etc)?
MS Chemistry. I obtained this degree while employed and continued my employment upon graduation.

What is your current position and how long have you been in that position?
Senior Scientist I – Chemistry in Oncology Discovery at AbbVie. I have been in this position for 5 ½ years and have been in various medicinal chemistry positions at AbbVie for the past 18 years.

What types of tasks and activities do you do in your current position (in other words, what actually happens in that job, our students might not know!)?
We design and synthesize potential drug molecules, analyze data from various in vitro and in vivo assays and utilize the data to design iterative rounds of compounds with more potency, better physical properties, etc.

How has your chemistry degree and DePaul education helped you in your career? What were the most beneficial aspects?
My MS from DePaul gave me a deeper understanding of organic chemistry and a great knowledge base in biochemistry as I was unable to fit biochemistry into my undergrad program. One of the most beneficial aspects was great access to supportive faculty to have discussions and get questions answered.

What do you think are the most useful skills to have for your current career?
Medicinal chemistry requires a collection of skills and knowledge: organic chemistry, biochemistry, strong synthetic skills. Perseverance is also essential. Most drug researches never get a drug onto market, so one must be passionate about the work itself.

What advice do you have for current or future DePaul students in order to succeed in Chemistry?
If you are not going on to graduate school or medical school, strongly consider the 5-year MS program. Graduating with your MS with only one additional year of study is a bargain (it took me three years while I worked). All things being equal, it will also differentiate you from other job candidates without an MS degree.

What advice do you have for our graduating students or recent graduates as they look at the next step in their careers?
Get experience wherever you can even if it is temporary or contract work. Be patient. Careers are rarely straight lines. Career paths tend to bend and curve and have detours. This is normal and can expose you to career options you may never have thought about otherwise.

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Collaborations within the Department

CollaborationIn the third and final post in our series on Connections and Collaborations, we are going to focus in on collaborations within the Chemistry department. Like many fields, chemistry is increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary. This is why it is important to learn about a variety of fields in chemistry and see the connections between them. Often, these collaborations spawn new ideas and approaches that would not have been discovered by one researcher alone.

DePaul Chemistry faculty continue to pursue research projects leveraging collaboration between multiple research groups, such as the examples highlighted below:

  • Dr. Ruben Parra and Dr. Lihua Jin are working on a study of the Cu2+ and Zn2+ binding affinities of selected chelate ligands.

 

  • Dr. Grice and Dr. Griffin are currently preparing a manuscript on the solution phase photochemistry of zinc bis-8-hydroxyquinolate, a material with potential applications in sensing, organic electronic technologies, and biological labelling.

 

  • Dr. French is currently pursuing several collaborative projects across many departments. Working with Dr. Sarah Read from Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, he developed a course in creating and presenting scientific posters. He is working with Dr. Murat Kahveci, also from DePaul Chemistry, on creating learning objects for physical chemistry, with results to presented at the DePaul Teaching and Learning Conference on May 5. He is also working on developing course materials for introductory calculus that are based on physics or chemistry applications, with Dr. David Sher of DePaul’s Mathematical Sciences department. Dr. French is also working with Dr. Sandy Virtue from the Psychology department on a collaborative project.

 

  • Dr. Karver and Dr. French are working together on a project to assess student understanding of pKa and identify sources of alternative conceptions related specifically to the pKa concept, and more broadly to acid/base chemistry.

Connections to the Chicago Area

ChicagoDePaul (1)

In our last post, we talked about research collaborations between DePaul Faculty and other researchers around the US and the World. In this post, we wanted to focus in to the city of Chicago and local areas. Part of DePaul’s mision is to engage Chicago and use the resources of this great city in our teaching and research, and the Chemistry Department is no exception!

We  have a strong connection to our local community here in the city of Chicago. Below are some highlights of recent and current programs.

  • Dr. Kyle Grice does outreach at DePaul Prep, a private Catholic high school in the area. He is also ACS Science coach, working with a local high school chemistry teacher. Through this program, the high school program received funding for supplies and equipment, and Dr. Grice also provides guidance and feedback on lab experiments.

 

 

  • Dr. Timothy French has launched a “Discover Chicago” course (incoming first year students take Discover or Explore Chicago courses in ther first quarter) entitled “Chicago: Food, Science, and Society”. The course will run as part of the Pathways Honors program in the coming fall quarter. Dr. French also works with the Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center, a CPS high school in the North Park neighborhood. He works with them on judging science fairs and preparing their science Olympiad team.

 

  • Several faculty members collaborate with researchers at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFUMS). These projects also involve DePaul student researchers working on the projects.

 

  • DePaul chemistry students go to the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium (CAURS) every year to present their research. If you are a student, consider going next year!

Research Connections Across the Globe

Research Connections

We wanted to highlight how the faculty in the Department of Chemistry have collaborations in research and teaching that span many different levels. These connections include those within the department as well as connections to other parts of the university, to Chicago, to the US, and even to the world. Let’s start with research collaboration on the national and global level and work our way back down to the local levels.

DePaul chemistry has a broad impact that extends well beyond our Lincoln Park campus! Below are just a few of the highlights of national and international research collaborations that DePaul chemistry faculty have been involved in.

  • Dr. Kyle Grice has several active collaborative research projects. Working with Dr. Alfredo Angeles-Boza from UConn, and collaborators from other institutions such as Brookhaven National Laboratory, he recently published a paper in the journal Inorganic Chemistry studying potential CO2 reduction catalysts by IR-SEC (Infrared-Spectroelectrochemistry) and bulk electrolysis (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.inorgchem.6b02384). He is also working with Prof. John Keith from the University of Pittsburgh on developing catalysts for CO2 reduction (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016236115001477).

 

  • Dr. Grice is also co-developing a research-based study abroad program to Spain with Dr. Jason Bystriansky of the DePaul Biology Department. Details of the program will be discussed in a future Catalyst post.

 

  • Dr. Caitlin Karver recently published the synthesis and optimization of triaminopyrimidine compounds as inhibitors of caspases involved in inflammation (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960894X16310538). Several of these compounds have been shipped to collaborators at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. There they will be tested for the activity in blood samples from patients with inflammatory conditions like Lupus.

 

  • Dr. Wendy Wolbach is a geochemist interested in studying environmental changes associated with meteorite impacts and mass extinctions. She searches for forms of elemental carbon in sedimentary rocks dating to the time of known impacts and extinctions by chemically isolating and quantifying elemental carbon in various forms: soot and charcoal (from fires triggered by an impact) or nanodiamonds formed in target rock from the pressure of impact. Sedimentary rocks can come from within or near a known crater or, if the impact was large enough to wreak global havoc, from anywhere that sediments accumulated at the time. In pursuing this research, Dr. Wolbach collaborates with teams of field geologists spread across the globe, including the United Kingdom, The People’s Republic of China, New Zealand, Canada, Norway, Russia, Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Spain, and Chile!