Graduate Student Spotlight Series


Our graduate students make a difference. The Department of Chemistry Graduate Student Spotlight series highlights some of our students and explains their work. Follow the links below for complete profiles on each student.


Nate Black, Gillan Group

Nate uses botanic templates such as leaves, potatoes, and even celery to synthesize materials for use in fuel cells, resulting in greater efficiency. Additionally, Nate is interested the use of earth-abundant metals such as nickel, cobalt, and iron in creating these materials. The current paradigm in the green energy industry is to use rare and costly metals such as platinum and ruthenium. Nate’s work in developing catalysts from abundant metals could result not only in improved fuel cell efficiency, but ideally in making fuel cell technology more economically sustainable


Jessica DeYoung, Shaw Group

Jessica studies the chemical and physical properties of environmental surface films and what they can tell us about air quality and climate.


Kat Lazenby, Becker Group

Kat’s research with the Becker group seeks to understand how undergraduate chemistry students think about chemical models, including their understanding of where these models come from, why they are used, and why multiple different models are often presented to describe the same phenomenon. 


Hansol Lee, Tivanksi Group


Hansol, through a collaboration with the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE), is using atomic force microscopy (AFM) to examine submicron-sized particles in sea spray aerosols in order to study their effects on climate and the chemistry of the atmosphere.


James Earl, Messerle Group

James is focused on creating novel x-ray contrast agents from tungsten, which he chose for its capacity to absorb x-rays and relative cost-effectiveness compared to other heavy metals.He 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.


Alisa Fairweather, Wiemer Group

Alisa is working to develop a fluorescent tag to attach to isomers that have been found to inhibit the GGTase II enzyme, which plays a role in the formation of the multiple myeloma, in order to track their behavior and movement in the human body. 


Nyema Harmon, Wiemer Group

Nyema’s thesis project is to develop a new fluorescent prodrug to help examine the protein BTN3A1, which stimulates the activation of T-cells that are essential to fighting leukemia.


Chamari Mampage, Stone Group

Chamari's research focuses on pollen rupturing under extreme weather conditions. Intact grains of pollen are generally too large to intrude deeply into the human respiratory system. When pollens rupture, pollen fragments can penetrate deep into the lung and even deposit. Researchers and clinicians have noticed that emergency visits for asthma can increase after a thunderstorm begins, which may be related to the rupture of allergy-causing pollen grains. However, little is known about the abundance, size, and type of pollen fragments in the atmosphere during thunderstorms, so Chamari is stepping up to lend her own investigatory efforts and skills to this question.


Irene Metz, Mason Group

Irene is leading the first serious effortto offer formal courses on computational chemistry to students at the community college levels. Using open-source software, she designs computational chemistry laboratory activities for her students. She teaches at Hawkeye Community College while working on her PhD.


Mo Payne, Forbes Group

Mo is working to develop and identify materials that have chemical selectivity for water. The current paradigm for water treatment involves removing contaminants from water, and each type of contaminant requires a different treatment process, which is time-consuming, complicated, and often expensive. Identifying materials that select for water rather than selecting for the contaminants could revolutionize water treatment, making it simpler, faster, and more cost-effective.


Mahboubeh Varmazyad, Pigge Group

Mahboubeh's work focuses on synthesizing derivatives of an FDA-approved anti-malaria drug to be repurposed as cancer therapeutics. Biological tests of the activity of these new derivatives have shown them to have high cytotoxicity towards melanoma A375 and pancreatic [MIA PaCa-2] cancer cell lines.