Thursday, April 3, 2014

Student spotlight: A McAtee twin takeover

Cory Trego
Staff Writer

Few can argue that it is easy to solidify one’s place in their respective field shortly after finishing an undergraduate degree.

It takes years of dedication and commitment to excellence to gain the expertise necessary to become admired and respected by peers.

Most students do not seek the opportunity to get involved in Keystone research until after they have walked across the stage and received their undergraduate diploma.
From left: Chris McAtee, older brother 
Pat McAtee and Rory McAtee pose 
for a photo in front of their research 

However, numerous students have taken the initiative and successfully engaged in advanced research within their respective fields early in the college career. Look no further than the McAtee twins, Chris and Rory, for a prime example.

Both Rory and Chris, currently juniors, developed their interests in the sciences early in high school.
Chris’s interest flourished when he began to shadow surgeons at Warren Hospital, near his hometown of Easton. Rory cites his sophomore AP chemistry class as his first significant exposure to the sciences.
“I found the class challenging, but my teacher facilitated students’ success and pushed me in the right direction. The class opened my eyes to the opportunities available in chemistry,” Rory said.
While attending Wilson Area High School, both developed an interest in medicine.

They noted that their school lacked opportunities for those considering careers in the medical field, so together they founded the school’s first Pre-Med Society. The club flourished during their time at the helm. They were even able to bring in a few physicians and a resident from Yale’s School of Medicine to talk with members of the club.

While still in high school, Rory and Chris visited the campus to see what the school had to offer within the science departments. Their older brother, Pat, was a current student at the time.

Both enjoyed their tours of the laboratory spaces in the chemistry and biology departments, and were impressed by the quality of the equipment that was available to undergraduate students. After  and decided to enroll.

Neither wasted any time seeking out research opportunities.

“I approached Dr. Morrison during the spring of my freshman year and asked to work in her research group. Working in her lab group gave me a better understanding of how research labs function,” Chris said.

Rory also approached Dr. Morrison during the spring of his freshman year. He noted that he had read about her post-doctoral work at Columbia and her research on Purkinje cell development and he wanted the opportunity to become involved. Later that year, Rory also sought out opportunities for research in the chemistry department.

He began working in Dr. Charles Mahler’s lab at the end of his freshman year studying physical properties of transition metal complexes, and stayed on campus throughout the summer to continue research.

When sophomore year rolled around, both McAtee brothers enrolled in organic chemistry classes taught by Dr. Chriss McDonald and Dr. Holly Bendorf. They liked the material and soon shifted their research focus.
“I enjoyed the idea of being able to synthesize biologically relevant compounds,” Chris said.

He soon contacted Dr. McDonald and was afforded the opportunity to work in his lab group beginning in the Spring of 2013 and then into the proceeding summer as a research fellow.

His research focused on finding a substitute to the SmI2 activator, HMPA, which is a known carcinogen. He has continued this research throughout the current school year.

Rory has also shifted his focus from medicine to chemistry. He spent this past summer researching how metals interact with biological systems under the direction of Dr. Kathy Franz at Duke University, yielding a manuscript for publication.

He continued his work in the field of organometallics when he returned to campus this past fall. Rory currently assists in Dr. Bendorf’s lab, where research is aimed at developing novel rhodium catalyzed hydroacylation type chemistry for the construction of biologically interesting and complex molecules.
This summer, Chris and Rory will continue expanding their range of connections and broadening their research experience. Rory plans to work at the University of Michigan researching the application of photoredox chemistry to complex organic synthesis and novel reaction design, under the direction of Dr. Corey Stephenson.

Chris will be working at the University of California at Berkeley under the direction of Dr. Richmond Sarpong.

His research will be a part of a broader cooperative effort under the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization. This project’s goal is to discover ways to functionalize usually unreactive carbon-hydrogen bonds.

Once they graduate both Chris and Rory plan to enroll in graduate programs.

Rory hopes to matriculate to a Ph.D. program in organic methodology with an emphasis in catalysis, while Chris plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program focusing in natural product synthesis. Research has been an integral part in both of their lives.

Their research has taken them around the country participating in lab research and conveying their findings to peers at various national and regional conferences.

“As a researcher, you not only have the ability to read about something in a textbook, but you also have the ability to push the boundaries of current human knowledge, and contribute to something that will one day become a part of the science curriculum.” Rory said.

The brothers share this drive for chemical research in order to add to the current chemical community and body of knowledge, but more importantly to help society.

The possibility of discovery is what propels these two motivated students and many others to go beyond mediocrity, and to strive for greater proficiency in their respective field.