Department Newsletter, Fall 2020

Message from the Chair
Department Spotlights
Department Kudos

In Memoriam
Class Notes
Donor Recognition


Message from the Chair



Chris Cahill


Greetings Alumni!

This year seemed to deliver no shortage of challenges for all of us. Whether it is COVID, virtual learning, fomenting racial strife, blistering politics or other issues that might be more manageable under “normal” conditions, we are all feeling it. There are a number of silver linings within this department, however — particularly with our commitment to virtual learning and our research efforts. Those of us in Science and Engineering Hall have been back in the lab since June and we welcomed select undergraduates back in September. Thus, despite working in reduced numbers and choreographed shifts to maintain social distancing, the research enterprise is actually hitting on all cylinders. And kudos to our computational colleagues (specifically Professors Jakub Kostal, J. Houston Miller and Mark Schofield) for organizing some tutorials on getting started with computational chemistry so folks can develop some other aspects of their work if they cannot be physically in the lab.

And our virtual learning efforts are in full swing as well. We got thrown into the deep end on this in the spring when we had to shift gears immediately. Yet with the summer to get ourselves sorted, we kicked off fall 2020 solidly. Faculty are making extensive use of university resources (Blackboard, etc.) and are delivering some great remote lectures and labs. For the latter, we have engaged some software companies to deliver virtual lab experiences for our introductory and organic chem labs. Upper-level labs have our faculty creating experiences from scratch and with the help of some carefully placed tripods and whiteboards! Sure, it’s no substitute for actually smelling a solvent. But this is where we and the rest of the planet are right now and the quality of the experience we are providing our students is as good as it can be. I am truly proud of our colleagues for rising to the occasion and putting the students first.

Looking ahead, we do not have clarity on where we will be in the spring or beyond, yet the chemistry community here at GW is ready for anything. As you work your way through this issue of our newsletter, I suspect you’ll be as struck as I am at all of the activities and efforts to maintain continuity and community. Whereas we all long for a return to “normalcy,” we are doing our best to see the opportunities that lie within the challenges and are looking forward to emerging improved and intact.

Regards to all,

Christopher Cahill
Department Chair


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Department Spotlights 

Momentum Is Building for the Meisel Lab Amid Pandemic



A woman dressed in lab coat and goggles works in a lab surrounded by equipment

The Meisel Lab established by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Joseph W. Meisel

The Meisel Lab was established in July 2020 with the arrival of Dr. Joseph Meisel at GW via a National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellowship at New York University. Graduate student Danielle Rodrigues was immediately on the scene to help set up equipment and organize supplies. 

In less than four months, the lab was fully functional with over 20 reactions completed and several macrocycles synthesized. Five additional first-year (and first-rate) graduate students have rotated through the lab, making significant contributions. The Meisel Lab focuses on designing functionalized molecular scaffolds with well-defined cavities to bind protein surfaces. By creating molecules with built-in pockets, the Meisel Lab aims to target pocketless proteins of high biomedical priority that have proven refractory to traditional medicinal chemistry approaches. Learn more about the Meisel Lab by visiting the lab website


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Advancing Bioanalytical Chemistry Studies in the Hao Lab



Individual video screens of a group of students on a Zoom call, with the host screen showing the Hao chemistry lab

The Hao Lab led by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ling Hao

The Hao research group welcomed new members in its lab, as well as newly installed liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry instruments for proteomics and metabolomics research!

In Dr. Ling Hao’s lab, second-year PhD student Ashley Frankenfield submitted her very first first-author research manuscript studying lysosomal interacting proteins in human neurons. The lab’s first undergraduate student Nicholas Randolph graduated from GW and received the Post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award at NIH for two years before applying to medical school. And Dr. Hao received the prestigious Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Award from ORAU (Oak Ridge Associated Universities) as one of 35 awardees from 127 member institutions nationwide.

Dr. Hao is always looking for talented young scientists to join the lab as graduate/undergraduate/visiting students or postdoctoral fellows. Feel free to contact Dr. Ling Hao, and visit the newly launched Hao Lab website!

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Meet the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Chemistry 



LaKeisha McClary

Dr. LaKeisha McClary

Dr. LaKeisha McClary was named the inaugural director of undergraduate studies for chemistry on July 1, and she has hit the ground running. Dr. McClary is a champion of high-quality undergraduate chemistry education, and she looks forward to serving as an ally and advocate for chemistry majors and minors. 

The fact that she was appointed during a pandemic has not slowed her down. In fact, the timing was fortuitous, as she makes certain to let undergraduates know they have a resource who is there to make their experience a little easier. As part of her new role, Dr. McClary will teach a special topics class during spring 2021 focused on helping chemistry majors build a chemistry identity through career exploration, science communication and academic leadership. Diversity, equity and inclusion as well as positivity and well-being will be central to the curriculum.


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Department Kudos

The Department of Chemistry fall 2020 seminar series kicked off as it would during normal times. Thanks to our organizers this year, Dr. Akos Vertes and Dr. Michael Wagner, who capitalized on the advantages of offering the seminars virtually.   Presenters were invited from far and wide, including overseas, which would normally be difficult. This was definitely a case of stepping up to the plate and turning what might have seemed like a disadvantage into an advantage! We invite all alumni to look at our calendar of speakers.

Jakub Kostal received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for his research on how pesticides degrade in light — an interdisciplinary effort toward safer food production and a cleaner environment. Read more about his research in GWToday

Stephen Boyes was awarded a $390,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program on advancing chemistry research by integrating green chemistry and science policy. Landing an REU speaks to Professor Boyes’ experience in this arena as he has run these programs for a number of years before joining us at GW as a mid-career hire. 

Dr. Erik A. Rodriguez received the 2020 GW Postdoc Association Mentorship Award.

Current and former GW PhD students team up to produce the first transplutonium MOF: "An Americium‐Containing Metal–Organic Framework: A Platform for Studying Transplutonium Elements," by J. August Ridenour, Robert G. Surbella III, Artem V. Gelis, Daniel Koury, Frederic Poineau, Kenneth R. Czerwinski, Christopher L. Cahill. First published: 19 September 2019.

Our Doctoral Program in Chemistry is ranked #114 according to US News and World Report (2018) — a jump from 131 from just a few years ago. Our strategic plan is to break into the top 100 over the next five years!

Anna Grim won $40,000 in the GW New Venture Competition, Ichosia Biotechnology: Tech Venture Track Winner.

Leah Garman is a recipient of a prestigious Luther Rice Fellowship.

Diana Ainembabazi, graduate student in the Voutchkova Lab, is the 2020 CCAS inductee into the GW Chapter of the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society. This Honor Society recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate. She was featured in the CCAS Spotlight magazine.

While Dr. Claire Besson’s lab was closed for the first three months of the pandemic, the lab is now active with graduate students Maegan Dailey, Chenyang Ma and Christopher Hossack. They are all working hard on becoming computational chemists! 

This year, graduate students Rhys Dickhudt, Nicole Conte and Caleb Reese and undergraduate student Max Shlafstein have joined Dr. Stephen Boyes’s lab. While Rhys is working on the development of high-performance polymer films based upon rigid-rod polymer brushes, Nicole is focused on the design of new polymer structures for the preparation of anti-bacterial/anti-viral coatings. Caleb is continuing his research into the design and synthesis of aromatic polyamide coatings for water purification. Max has been working with both Caleb and Rhys on preparing patterned polymer brushes using the techniques developed in our lab.

This summer, Dr. Gail Clements and Dr. Martín Zysmilich successfully co-taught a fast-paced Organic Chemistry course. Transitioning into this fall, Dr. Clements has used a visual platform from Labflow® so 11 graduate assistants and 250 students can learn about organic chemistry lab techniques from videos. 

Earlier this year, Dr. Cynthia Dowd gave talks at both Wake Forest University and the University of Rochester. During the fall seminar series, Dr. Dowd’s lab has been hosting colleagues from Notre Dame, the University of Cape Town, UCSF and Virginia Tech. Dr. Dowd continues to sit on an NIH study section on drug discovery, participate on the CCAS Dean’s Council and serve as chair of graduate admissions for the Chemistry Department.

While the beloved Dr. Michael King retired earlier this year, he can still be found working hard in either his office or in his lab. Read more about his retirement in the CCAS Spotlight magazine. 

Under the leadership of Dr. Jakub Kostal, the Kostal Research Group began its NSF-funded work on indirect photodegradation of pesticides. The group has published four peer-reviewed publications in high impact journals during 2020 thus far, spanning a variety of green chemistry, computational chemistry and toxicology topics, which are in part the result of our ongoing collaborations with the Brooks lab at Baylor University, Verisk 3E in Bethesda and the Voutchkova group at GW. As part of their outreach efforts, the research group has developed online curricula focused on toxicology for chemists in collaboration with Beyond Benign, a nonprofit in green chemistry education.

The Massiah group, led by Dr. Michael Massiah, currently consists of five undergraduates, Iman Sayed, Molly Little, Erin Gladu, Allie Mennella and Suraj Kandoth, and one graduate student, Jessica Webb. One pair of students analyzed how two families of proteins interact by identifying unique amino acids important for specific level of activity, one pair had identified a peptide that can be used as a possible drug to inhibit the interaction of two proteins that lead to hormone-inducible breast cancer and the other paid performed in-silico binding studies between domains of the MID1 protein, one of Dr. Massiah’s main projects in the lab. With the pandemic, our group has embarked on having two weekly group meetings with research groups from NIH, Oklahoma State University and Notre Dame University. 

Earlier this year, Dr. Houston Miller was elected as a Fellow of the Combustion Institute “for seminal contributions to the understanding of soot particle inception from polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.” Along with Katie Hinnant, Jennifer Giaccai, Andrew Kamischke and Monica Flores during the pandemic, Dr. Miller’s lab continued to process the laser desorption and ionization mass spectrometry data collected by Shellie Jacobson Golden in collaboration with the Vertes group. This resulted in a paper in the prestigious journal Angewandte Chemie, International Edition and a follow-up paper in the Proceedings of the Combustion Institute.

Dr. Erik Rodriguez received the GW Postdoc Association Mentorship Award during the 2020 Postdoc Appreciation week. Dr. Rodriguez’s lab currently has four papers under review. His undergraduates' first journal article was published in February 2020 in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules and has been cited nine times. 

The Vertes lab, led by Dr. Akos Vertes, said goodbye to several students who helped make the lab such a success: Dr. Sylwia Stopka, Dr. Linwen Zhang and Dr. Jarod Fincher. Graduate student Laith Samarah, who works in the lab, was selected for a scholarship by the Metropolitan Washington Chapter of Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation. Recent student additions to the lab include Sara Mattson, Géssica Vasconcelos and Marjan Dolatmoradi. Their projects are exploring the molecular mechanism of biological nitrogen fixation. 

Dr. Adelina Voutchkova-Kostal is serving as an editorial advisory board member of Chemical Research in Toxicology and on the early career board of ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. Her current research program spans two frontiers of green chemistry: the development of green synthetic methods through supported catalysis, as well as the development of predictive methods for identifying chemicals of toxicological concern. 

Dr. Martín G. Zysmilich has been serving as deputy chair of the Chemistry Department, assisting the chair, Dr. Chris Cahill, with the daily academic and administrative affairs of the department. He also serves as the director of graduate studies for the Chemistry Department.


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In Memoriam

Professor Emeritus Akbar Montaser passed away in California on September 13 of pancreatic cancer. Professor Montaser joined the university in 1981 as an assistant professor of chemistry, after serving as an assistant professor in Iran and as a research scientist at Ames Laboratory in Iowa. He quickly established a significant research program at GW, in spite of quite limited resources, becoming a full professor in 1989. 

A prolific researcher and innovator in analytical chemistry, Professor Montaser was the author of over 120 full papers, numerous proceedings and conference reports and over 330 invited, contributed or plenary presentations in analytical chemistry by the time he retired. A report in the Web of Science in 2012 listed almost 3200 citations to his papers. He co-authored and co-edited two editions of a renowned text in 1987 and 1992, and he was the editor of the book Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, published in 1998. Both volumes were leading texts in the field when they were published. In the over 31 years of service to GW, his research was supported by significant funding from the Department of Energy, NSF and others. 

In addition to serving on the editorial advisory boards for five major publications in analytical chemistry, he was constantly reviewing proposals for NSF, DOE and NRC, among others, as well as major publications in the field. He was awarded the Columbian College Dean's Award for Scholarly-Creative Excellence in Research in 1990; the Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Prize for Faculty Scholarship in 1997; and the Hillebrand Prize by the Chemical Society of Washington in 2000. In addition to his recognition as a Columbian Professor in 2001 by Dean Lefton, Professor Montaser’s invention of the Direct Injection High Efficiency Nebulizer (DIHEN) was selected by R&D Magazine for the R&D-100 Award in 1999 as one of the 100 most technically significant products of the year. 

Professor Montaser also stands out for having mentored close to 70 undergraduates, doctoral students, postdoctoral associates and visiting scientists over his career at GW. His resume understates his enormous contributions and service to the field of analytical chemistry through his activities at conferences. 

Professor Montaser retired in 2012, ending a distinguished 31-year career at GW. Between retirement and his recruitment to GW there have been many years of distinguished service to this institution as an effective, engaging teacher of analytical chemistry, a ground-breaking, internationally recognized scholar and a thoughtful, enterprising colleague.


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Department Awards

Logan Bartholomew was awarded the American Institute of Chemists, the Alpha Chi Sigma award, and the American Chemical Society–Division of Organic Chemistry Undergraduate Award. 

Nicolina Albano was awarded the American Chemical Society–Division of Analytical Chemistry Undergraduate Award.

Selene Ramer was awarded the American Chemical Society–Division of Inorganic Chemistry Undergraduate Award.

Leah Garman was awarded the American Chemical Society–Division of Physical Chemistry Undergraduate Award.

Graduate student J. August Ridenour was awarded the American Institute of Chemists award.

Samuel Kirby, Molly Little, Allie Mennella and Christopher Reid were awarded the Madeleine Reines Jacobs fund. 

Erin Gladu was awarded the Charles and Elma Naeser fund. 

Samuel Kirby was awarded the Chemical Society of Washington Prize. 

Miren Lopez Lascurain was awarded the Byrne Thurtell Burns Memorial Prize. 

Anna Steiner was awarded the William E. Fitch Prize. 

Mohammed Almarkhan, Dylan Armanini, Olivia Finizio and Zachary Stickelman were awarded the Chemical Rubber Company Freshman Chemistry Achievement Award. 

Dustin Abele, Andrew Kamischke and Chenyang Ma were awarded the Benjamin D. Van Evera Memorial Prize.


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Class Notes

Davette Abkowitz, AA ’44, BS ’45, is living in Brookhaven, enjoying lots of time with friends, playing bridge and cribbage, and reading poems, short stories and current events. 

Homa Ahmadzia, BS ’04, MD ’08, is a K23 scholar studying tranexamic acid dose optimization for pregnant women at delivery to reduce bleeding complications.

Diana Ainembabazi, MPhil, PhD ’20, recently started a postdoctoral fellowship at Indiana University Department of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology. 

George Logan Bartholomew, BS ‘20, is in his first year of his PhD program in organic chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.

Keegan Caldwell, PhD ’14, founded Caldwell IP Law in 2016. This year, his firm was named the #1 fastest growing IP law firm in the United States and the #215 fastest growing company in the U.S. 

Vanessa Distabile, BS ’17, MFS ’18, is a spectroscopic chemist with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. She and her husband, Andrew, are expecting their first child in April 2021. 

John Dobbs, BA ’18, is currently a third-year medical student at GW, pursuing his dream of caring for the underserved. 

Jarod Fincher, PhD ‘20, is a postdoctoral scholar studying mass spectrometry at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. 

Magaret Furey, BS ‘20, is pursuing an MPH in environmental health science and policy at GW.

Philip George, BS ’10, MD ’14, is a general surgeon in New Jersey performing minimally invasive hernia and stomach surgery. 

Justin Hachey, BS ’20, received Honorable Mention for his National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program application and was runner-up for the GW Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year. He is currently pursuing a PhD in pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine. This summer, he collaborated with fellow GW alumnus Jack Conlon, BS ’20, in the Ting Lab (Weill Cornell Medicine) on their paper describing fluorescent protein nanoparticles for non-invasive tumor imaging! 

Mimi Hamling, BS ’13 has finally started her dream of becoming a radiologist! She began her first year in residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and hopes to make it back southwest, where she's originally from. 

R. Gerald Heinze, BS ’65, MS MD ’70, is enjoying retirement after being an M.D., including taking his sailboat, Catalyst, out on the water.

Ege Ipek, BS ‘20, is continuing his studies at GW in the MS in Environmental and Green Chemistry program. 

Miren Lopez Lascurain, BS ‘20, is pursuing an MPH in environmental health sciences at Columbia University.

Kira Lueders, BS ’62, MS ’66, traveled extensively in 2019, including bird-watching trips to Panama and New Mexico; Thousand Islands region in New York; nature trip to Iceland; and traveling from Costa Rica to San Diego through Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua. 

Qene Mahlet, BS ‘20, is attending the GW School of Medicine.

Gregory McWhir, BS ’10, recently finished residency in New York City and is now an attending emergency physician at Cape Fear Valley Hospital in North Carolina. 

Sydney Morris, BS ’15, will defend her PhD at Scripps Research on "Biochemical Insights to Unnatural DNA/RNA Base Pairs that Enable Production of Novel Protein Products" this December. Afterwards, she will do strategy consulting for life science companies. 

Al Nadel, BS ’71, JD ’76, has been hunkered down like everyone else and waiting to follow up an Antarctica trip with a postponed Arctic trip! 

Selene Ramer, BS ‘20, is currently attending UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. 

Christopher Reid, BS ‘20, is pursuing a PhD in chemistry at the University of Virginia. 

James August Ridenour, PhD ‘20, is pursuing his DC National Research Council Postdoc at the Naval Research Lab.

Scott Ruplinger, BS, BA ’04, is a public defender in Austin, Texas, with a specialty in wrongful convictions based on errors in forensic science. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law. 

Charlotte Snyder, MS ‘20, is working at the EPA in the Toxic Release Inventory Program Division.

Anna Steiner, BS ‘20, is attending GW to complete a master’s degree in forensic chemistry. 

Gian Surbella, PhD ’18, is now a staff scientist at Pacific Northwest National Lab and recently provided key access and instrumentation to contribute to this study.

Tina Tran, BS ‘20, is pursuing an MD at Oregon Health and University to become a pediatrician.


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Donor Recognition

The Chemistry Department would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the program from January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019.

+ Faculty/Staff | # Parent | ~ Student | * Friend



Act for Alexandria 
Schwab Charitable Fund 

George Bartholomew, BS ’20

Brittany Bernstein, BS ’18 

Robert Bowen, BA ’59, MS ’64 

Shelesa Brew, BS ’69 

Dr. Christopher Cahill +

Dr. Edward Caress +

Dr. Virginia Caress *

Dr. Alice Choe, BS ’01 

Elizabeth Donaldson, AA ’59, BS ’61

Lawrence Fertel, BS ’81 

Francesco Fiondella *

Dwayne Gamble +

Dr. Susan Gillmor +

Dr. David Goldberg, AA ’52, BS ’54 

Thomas Hall, BS ’73, MD ’77 

Jennifer Herdman, PhD ’12

John Hoffsommer, PhD ’64 

Raj Narayanan Iyer, PhD ’92

Madeleine Jacobs, BA ’68, Honorary Doctorate ’03 

Frank Joe, Jr., PhD ’76 

Randall Kaye, MA, ’88, MD ’88 

Dr. Michael King +

Dr. Carolyn Knobler, AA ’53, BS ’55 



Dr. Charles Knobler *

Dr. Stuart Kornfeld *

George Latimer, Jr., Ph.D., AA ’53, BS ’55 

Michael M *

Le-Nhung McLeland, MS ’76 

Haley Meyers, BS ’20 

Alan Nadel, BS ’71, JD ’76 

Dr. Robert Pellenbarg, BS ’71

Victoria Perros Levi *

Eugenia Perros *

Beatrice Poolt, BS ’84 

Mitchell Ross, M.D., BS ’77 

Pamela Russ, MS ’74 + 

William Setser, MS ’62 

Ann Shulman, BA ’66 

Dr. Joel Shulman, BS ’65 

Peter Tarassoff, PhD ’74, MD ’78 

Paul Thomas, BS ’48, MD ’52

John Van Patten, USN (RET), AS ’81, BS ’85

Renuka Vig, MBA ’93 

Charles Wales, AA ’48, BS ’49 

Erinn Williams #

Dushan Zdravkovich, Esq, MA ’71 

Vera Zdravkovich, MPhil ’70, PhD ’79

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