Grad Student Spotlight: James Earl


Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, James is something of a polymath – his interests are vast, ranging from botany to ancient musical instruments to mustard-making, and he offers a wealth of knowledge on a number of subjects. He enrolled at the University of Chicago after graduating high school, intending to study math, but knowing Chicago would offer a number of strong programs should he choose to pursue a different subject. While he excelled in his mathematics studies, he realized he wasn’t having as much fun as he was in his chemistry courses. He says that while chemistry did not come quite as easily, he enjoyed producing tangible results in the lab.

James is now a member of the Messerle Research Group, which specializes in the exploration of metal-metal covalent bonds. One subset of their research is the development of contrast agents for use in diagnostic x-ray imaging. James is focused on creating novel agents from tungsten, which he chose for its capacity to absorb x-rays and relative cost-effectiveness compared to other heavy metals. Additionally, previous research has revealed that tungsten clusters can be just as effective as commonly-used agents, but in far lower concentrations – which is much safer for patients. James hopes to develop new compounds that are more water-soluble and stable, hold up better within the body, and can help with the imaging of anatomy for which no effective compounds yet exist, such as the smallest veins in the heart and the ureters - the narrow pathways between the bladder and the kidneys.

“Find a project that interests you,” James advises new graduate students. Try not to view your graduate experience as a crucible to endure – it’s a project you’ll be working on for five or six years of your life, not just a means to the end of obtaining a Ph.D. Your research project should be work you enjoy – something that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning.


Our graduate students make a difference! Additional Graduate Student Spotlight pieces are linked here.