Department of Chemistry

541 Mark Jefferson Science Complex

Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197


Alumni Stories

  • Thomas Horvath Reflects upon His Education and Career in Chemistry

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    I started my academic career at EMU in 1996 as an undergraduate student in the College of Technology. My intent was to continue my studies in CAD drafting after successfully completing my Associates of Applied Science degree in Mechanical Design Technologies at Ivy Tech State College in Bloomington, IN. While completing general education requirements, I attended the first term in the introductory chemistry sequence (CHEM 121 & 122) that was taught by the late Professor Donald Phillips. I was quickly captivated by the subject material comprised in the curriculum, and thoroughly enjoyed the observation-based inquiry implicit in laboratory experimentation. My decision to switch my major area of study to chemistry was driven by a newfound interest in studying chemical and physical phenomena, and a relentless recruiting campaign by Professor Phillips.

    As an undergraduate student in the chemistry department, I was able to perform physical chemistry research in the following areas: Random Sequential Adsorption of molecules onto surfaces (Prof. Ross Nord); investigations in fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy (Prof. Tim Brewer); and modeling of the energies of interaction between gas-phase analytes and stationary phase materials commonly used in GC columns (Profs Heather Holmes and Maria Milletti). I was also able to take advantage of the chemistry department’s internship program to secure a two-year (paid) internship in bioanalytical chemistry within the Pharmacokinetics, Dynamics, and Drug Metabolism (PDM) department at Pfizer’s Global R & D facility in Ann Arbor. In this role, I developed Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry/Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) methods, and performed assessments of new technology that were pertinent the bioanalytical scientists that worked in the PDM department.

    After graduating in the summer of 2000, I went on to earn my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Physical Chemistry from the University of Michigan under the tutelage of Professor Raoul Kopelman, where I studied nanotechnology. After completing my Ph.D., I accepted a post-doctoral research position in the laboratory of Donald Mock, MD., Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, where I developed blood and urine based LC-MS/MS assays to assess tissue-level biotin status of humans under various clinical circumstances (e.g. pregnancy, smoking status). This body of work culminated in eight peer-reviewed publications over a two-year time period!

    After completing my post-doc, I accepted a position as a Senior Research Scientist in the Methods Development group within the Bioanalytical Services division of Worldwide Clinical Trials located in Austin, Texas. In this challenging role, I developed and validated quantitative LC-MS/MS assays for the determination of pharmaceuticals and their metabolites in biological fluids in accordance with highly regulated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMEA) guidances. These experiences lead me to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, where I am currently working as a Research Scientist in the Proteomics and Metabolomics Core Facility within the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Department.   My role in this position is to develop quantitative LC-MS/MS methods for the targeted analysis of endogenous metabolites in biological fluids and incubated cancer cell lines that are included in the National Cancer Institute (NCI-60) panel.

    When I pause to reflect on my career, I consider the time shared with faculty and fellow students in the chemistry department as some of the fondest and most influential of my life. The theoretical and practical training provided by the Chemistry Department faculty was paramount to achieving success in both my academic and industrial pursuits. With the new Mark Jefferson Science Complex, and the department’s focus on education, current students should feel confident in their choice of studying chemistry at Eastern Michigan University.

  • Dr. Ermelinda Harper:  Oh, the places one can go with a degree in Biochemistry 

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    Ermelinda Harper is a 1998 graduate of EMU with a professional biochemistry degree.  As a student, she received numerous honors.  Among them, she

    was awarded Third Team status in USA TODAY's All USA College Academic Team.  At the time, she was the only EMU student to have received this honor.
    was named a Barry Goldwater Scholar.  The purpose of the Foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields
    received the 1998 Bert W. Peet Award winner.  This award goes to top graduating EMU Chemistry/Biochemistry major.
    was the student emcee at the 1998 Undergraduate Symposium.  She was the third student ever selected for this position.
    Below, in her own words, Dr. Harper tells the story of her academic and professional career.

    I changed majors at least a dozen times in my first year of undergraduate! I finally selected a major that stuck and decided upon a pre-medical track. Everything was finally set, and then in walked Dr. Elva Nicholson and organic chemistry.

    At the time, I did not have a lot of confidence in my academic abilities. This – combined with the horror stories I had heard about organic chemistry – had me literally shaking in my shoes. For the entire semester, I thought about almost nothing but organic chemistry. When the semester ended, I found myself actually looking forward to the next organic chemistry class in the sequence. I was shocked and flattered when Dr. Nicholson began asking questions about my educational and career goals.

    Over the next year, I found myself thinking about chemistry a lot, and more and more chemistry classes crept into my schedule. This coincided with my spending more time in the laboratory of a chemistry professor, Dr. Michael Brabec, who I still regard as my most important mentor. Spending the summer at Eastern Michigan University working with Dr. Brabec in a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates position “sealed the deal”, and I changed my major one more time: to professional biochemistry.

    After being graduated from Eastern Michigan University, I lived in Beijing, China, teaching for a year and then working at an environmental consultancy for another year. During this time, I saw firsthand the environmental challenges and degradation that developing countries face. The encouragement that I received in science – combined with my  experience in China – ultimately coalesced into my decision to pursue graduate studies with an environmental focus.

    I was graduated with a master of science degree in civil engineering from Northwestern University. With the support of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, I pursued further graduate work at Yale University. At Yale, I completed two master’s degrees along the way to my PhD in engineering and applied science. As a doctoral student, I studied the element tungsten, determining quantitative estimates for how the United States has used it and traded it, in all of its forms, for a 25-year period, and the ultimate fate of the products that remained in the United States (i.e., estimates of how much was recycled versus discarded in landfills). The results illuminated how the United States uses tungsten, and what recycling potentials might exist.

    My work as a research scientist at Yale University shifted to studying metals use, recycling, and resources. This work has become increasingly important in light of emerging technologies (e.g., solar panels and smart phones) that employ metals whose supply may be uncertain, and it has received wide attention from academia, industry, and the general public. So far, I have co-authored 16 peer-reviewed publications throughout my education and career.

    The guidance and support so generously, continuously, and graciously given by extremely talented Chemistry Department faculty members was invaluable and, quite honestly, the best I ever received. The didactic and laboratory training at Eastern was rigorous, comprehensive, and inspiring. I firmly attribute every success that I have had to the mentorship that I received at Eastern Michigan University, both as a member of the Honors Program and as a chemistry student. My decision to change my major one last time was one of the best decisions I ever made.

  • Jason Miller Begins Ph.D. Program and Reflects upon his Time at EMU

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    More than 10 years removed from high school and after his military service, EMU Honors Alumnus Jason Miller finds himself studying at the University of Michigan.

    “The Honors College staff, and opportunities the college gave me ways to not only set myself apart from others, but also gave me opportunities to explore other things, and experience things I only dreamed of,” Miller said.

    Studying in U of M’s Ph.D. program for medicinal chemistry, Jason is fully funded for six years and has also received the Rackham Merit Fellowship. This first year he will be doing rotations with potential labs in which he has interest in future work. Once his studies are complete, he hopes to work in government research, research in general or the healthcare industry.

    “I really want to work to make the world a better place and find ways to make everyone’s health better,” Miller said.
    Jason credits the support and mentorship of Cory Emal and Hedeel-Guy Evans whose constant encouragement were paramount to his success.

    “Eastern was the best college decision I ever made and am glad I did; it allowed me to excel, grow and really figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” Miller said.

    - This story originally appeared in the September 2014 EMU Honors College Newsletter. 

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