Chemistry & Biochemistry

Notable Faculty & Student Achievements

April 2024

  • Garey Chair and Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry Maha Zewail-Foote co-authored a paper in a top journal, Briefings in Bioinformatics.She and her co-authors showed that DNA damage is localized within cancer-forming sequences across the human genome. This multidisciplinary research involved a unique collaboration with UT Austin professors in various disciplines.





  • From a pool of more than 5,000 applicants, biochemistry/mathematics junior and Dixon Scholar Brian Armijo ’25 was selected as a 2024 Goldwater scholar - SU’s first ever! The Goldwater Scholarship Program, one of the oldest and most prestigious national scholarships in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics in the United States, seeks to identify, encourage, and financially support college sophomores and juniors who show exceptional promise of becoming this nation’s next generation of research leaders in these fields.





  • Professor of Biochemistry and Garey Chair of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote presented “Biological and molecular consequences of oxidative damage on non-B DNA-induced genetic instability” at the 2024 American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology National Meeting.





  • Professor of Biochemistry and Garey Chair of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote delivered a presentation on effective strategies for improving diversity, inclusion, and belonging within undergraduate research laboratories at the 2024 American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology National Meeting. Her abstract was selected for the coveted spotlight talk for a special session on challenges and best practices in running a research program primarily with undergraduate students.





  • Professor of Biochemistry and Garey Chair of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote co-organized and led a well-attended 90-min workshop titled “Unlocking Your Career Success Through Networking and Mentorship” at the 2024 American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology National Meeting. Workshops were selected based on proposal submissions. 





February 2024

  • Director of Organic Chemistry Labs Carmen Velez and Assistant Professor of Physics Cody Crosby, alongside several outstanding Southwestern undergraduate alumni and students (Kristie Cheng, Nina Woodward, Noor Nazeer, and Gabriela Nicole Hislop Gomez) published an article in the Journal of Chemical Education that describes the adaptation of gelatin methacryoyl (GelMA) hydrogels to the undergraduate laboratory. The authors found that their methods reinforced chemistry laboratory skills introduced students to a new discipline (biomaterials), and increased student interest in the medicinal applications of materials. The article was additionally featured by ACS as a supplementary journal cover designed by Lauren Muskara, a Southwestern alumnus.





November 2023

  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer, Bailey Meyer ’20, Haley White ’20, and Jared McCormack ’22 published an article titled “Catechin composition, phenolic content, and antioxidant properties of commercially-available bagged, gunpowder, and matcha green teas” in the Springer Nature journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. Interestingly, results showed that the lowest-cost teas in the study (such as a loose-leaf gunpowder tea made by Pure Leaf and bagged green teas produced by Allegro, Twinings, and Lipton) had significantly higher phenolic contents and antioxidant capacities than more expensive matcha green teas. The research was supported by the Robert A. Welch Foundation and Southwestern’s Herbert and Kate Dishman endowment. The article is available here.





  • Meghana Nittala ’24 and Sanjana Nittala ’24 each gave an oral presentation on their research on how photosynthetic diatoms adapt their light-harvesting under light and iron stress at the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium (GCURS) hosted by Rice University in October. Both of their talks were recognized with “Outstanding Presentation in Physical Chemistry” awards. Their presentations resulted from research done with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sara Massey.





October 2023

  • Sanjana Nittala ’24 gave a talk titled “The Emergence of the F710 State Due to Iron Stress on Diatom P. tricornutum Light-harvesting Complexes” at the Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium (FURS) at UT-Austin in September. She was awarded the Best Presentation Award in Chemistry. Her talk resulted from research done with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sara Massey.





August 2023

  • Director of Organic Chemistry Labs Carmen Velez attended the NSF-sponsored Chemistry for the Community Workshop at St. Joseph’s College of Maine. She presented her work on community-engaged learning that she did last spring in the Chemistry Capstone course.





  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sara Massey presented a poster titled “The light-harvesting response of the diatom P. tricornutum to external stressors varies by native environment” at the Photosynthesis Gordon Research Conference, held July 23-28 in Newry, Maine. She conducted the research with Yusuf Buhari ’23, Sanjana Nittala ’24, Meghana Nittala ’24, and Noor Nazeer ’24.





  • Former Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mike Gesinski and five of his research students—Richard Rodriguez ’23, Natalie Zequeira ’24, Sophia Karim ’24, Luca Cipleu ’25, and Zachary Logan ’26—attended the 48th National Organic Chemistry Symposium, held July 9-13 at Notre Dame University. They met with scientific leaders from academia and the pharmaceutical industry and sang karaoke with Nobel laureates. Together, they presented three posters on the “Titanium-Mediated Synthesis of Cyclobutanones” and the “Gold(I)-Catalyzed Synthesis of Heterocycles.”





May 2023

  • The following individuals were recently recognized as award recipients for the 2022-23 academic year. Teaching awards: Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Chelsea Massaro, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jorge Lizarzaburu, and Associate Professor of French Francis Mathieu. Assistant Professor of Art Ron Geibel won the Jesse E. Purdy Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Works Award. The Advising Award went to Associate Professor of Chemistry Michael Gesinski.





April 2023

  • Southwestern University was well represented at the American Chemical Society Spring 2023 meeting in Indianapolis, IN. Five students presented a total of three posters at the meeting: Yusuf Buhari ’23, Holly Lawson ’23, Sanjana Nittala ’24, Meghana Nittala ’24, and Noor Nazeer ’24. This work was done collaboratively with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sara Massey and Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer.





  • Professor of Biochemistry and Garey Chair of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote and Associate Professor of Biology Martín Gonzalez published an article in the Journal of Chemical Education where they describe the development and implementation of a unique undergraduate research-based laboratory course that cultivates an inclusive and supportive learning community and helps students develop a sense of belonging through mentorship and peer-to-peer learning. The course is centered on a new framework they developed called crisscrossing laboratory experiences (CCLE), where first-year students were placed into two interdisciplinary research cohorts. Halfway through the course, the cohorts swapped research projects to establish reciprocal peer learning partnerships allowing students to be both learners and teachers.





  • Several student members of the Texas Alpha chapter of the Alpha Chi Honor Society attended the Alpha Chi National Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they presented research and creative works from several fields. Arden Neff ’25 presented a research poster titled “Using Linear Programming to Optimize Grape Harvest Timing and Yield” based on research supervised by Professor of Computer Science Dr. Barbara Anthony. Chelsey Southwell ’24 Samuel Dawson ’23 gave a presentation titled “Gold(I) Catalyzed Synthesis of Isoquinolines” based on research supervised by Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mike Gesinski. Finally, Anna Wicker ’24 gave a piano performance of “Souvenir de Porto Rico” by L.M. Gottschalk, which she selected with the guidance of Professor of Music Kiyoshi Tamagawa. Additionally, it was announced that Marcelo Salazar-Barragan ’23 was awarded a $3,000 H. Y. Benedict Fellowship. Alpha Chi is a national honor society open to students of all academic disciplines and was founded at Southwestern University in 1922. Only the top 10% of juniors and seniors are invited to join, and our chapter currently consists of 55 student members.





  • Professor of Biochemistry and Garey Chair of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote gave an oral presentation at the 2023 American Chemical Society national meeting in the Division of Biological Chemistry’s session on Emerging Areas and New Methods in Biological Chemistry. Her talk was titled “Impact of oxidative damage on H-DNA-induced genetic instability.”





  • Professor of Biochemistry and Garey Chair of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote gave an oral presentation at the 2023 American Chemical Society national meeting, Division of Chemical Education. Her talk was on developing and implementing an undergraduate research-based laboratory course that promotes inclusion and belonging through mentorship and peer-to-peer learning. Her abstract was chosen for the SCI-MIX poster presentation – a poster event representing each division’s best.





March 2023

  • Professor of Biochemistry and Garey Chair of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote, Cargill Endowed Associate Professor of Education Alicia Moore, and Professor of Political Science Alisa Gaunder co-presented a virtual session for the Association for American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) 2023 Conference on Diversity, Equity and Student Success. The mission of the AAC&U conference was to explore the complexities of truth within higher education while examining institutional structures and beliefs that impede diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. The presentation, titled “Cross-Institutional CONNECTions: Mentorship, Truth, Belonging, and Retention,” provided an overview of Southwestern’s ACS-funded FOC CONNECT project, which seeks to dismantle barriers to success experienced by early-career faculty of color (FOC) in the academy. The project supports a cross-institutional faculty mentoring program that connects these scholars with senior faculty of color from other ACS institutions.





August 2022

  • Associate Professor of Education Alicia Moore and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Maha Zewail-Foote were awarded a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) to create a unique virtual cross-institutional faculty mentoring program for early-career faculty of color (FOC) called FOC CONNECT. The program will connect early-career faculty of color with senior faculty from other ACS institutions. Through this program, early-career faculty of color will receive mentorship and support. The program will also provide training for selected senior faculty mentors.





  • Director of Organic Chemistry Labs Carmen Velez and Director of General Chemistry Labs Dilani Koswatta attended the 2022 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, held July 31–August 4 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Velez presented her research titled “Culturally Relevant and Socially Responsible Design of Organic Chemistry Laboratory Curriculum.”





July 2022

  • Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mike Gesinski and four of his SCOPE research students—Nathaniel Blake ’24, Michelle Nguyen ’23, Yaz Sebastiany ’24, and Chelsey Southwell ’24—attended the 47th National Organic Chemistry Symposium, held June 26–30 in San Diego, California. They met with scientific leaders from academia and the pharmaceutical industry, including three Nobel laureates, and presented three posters. Nguyen was awarded best poster for her presentation titled “Titanium-Mediated Synthesis of Cyclobutanones.”





April 2022

  • Southwestern University was well represented at the American Chemical Society Spring 2022 meeting in San Diego, California. Eight students presented a total of six posters at the meeting: Yusuf Buhari ’23, Sean Calvert ’22, Gabrielle Cano ’22, Natalie Gierat ’22, Rhoda Hijazi ’22, Jared McCormack ’22, Neha Momin ’22, and Ethan Shilgalis ’22. This work was done collaboratively with Associate Professor of Chemistry Mike Gesinski, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sara Massey, and Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer.





Feburary 2022

  • Associate Professor of Chemistry Mike Gesinski was awarded a grant from Organic Syntheses Inc. for summer research at a principally undergraduate institution. This award is sponsored by a nonprofit that specializes in publishing extremely scalable and reproducible scientific results. It will provide Gesinski with $16,000 over two years to fund student research on his project involving gold-catalysis.





  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer published a chapter titled “Semester-long Projects in the Analytical Chemistry Laboratory Curriculum” in a new edited volume, Active Learning in the Analytical Chemistry Curriculum. The book was published by the American Chemical Society (ACS) as part of the ACS Symposium Series. The peer-reviewed pedagogical chapter discusses the implementation and assessment of semester-long projects in undergraduate analytical chemistry lab courses. The chapter was coauthored with Angela González-Mederos of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico–San Germán and Tom Wenzel of Bates College and stems from the group’s collaboration during national active-learning workshops for analytical chemistry faculty. 





  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer, Eunice Bajomo ’19, Melanie Aing ’18, and Luke Ford ’19 published an article titled “Chemotyping of Commercially Available Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) Varieties: Cultivar and Morphotype Influence Phenolic Acid Composition and Antioxidant properties” in Elsevier’s NFS Journal. The peer-reviewed article discusses a collaborative project that involved growing 22 basil varieties from seed (~100 plants), harvesting the basil leaves, and analyzing their chemical composition. The research was supported by the Robert A. Welch Foundation and Southwestern’s Herbert and Kate Dishman endowment.





December 2021

  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sara Massey coauthored an article titled “Redox Conditions Correlated with Vibronic Coupling Modulate Quantum Beats in Photosynthetic Pigment-Protein Complexes” that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The paper was coauthored with scientists at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis.





October 2021

  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer and Associate Professor of Chemistry Mike Gesinski  published a chapter in the book Equity and Inclusion in Higher Education: Strategies for Teaching  (University of Cincinnati Press, 2021). In their chapter, titled “Active Learning Pedagogies in the Introductory and Organic Chemistry Curriculum: Increasing Student Persistence and Success,” Niemeyer and Gesinski chronicle the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department’s move to active learning pedagogies and the effect these changes have had on improving retention of students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields. More information about the book can be found on the University of Cincinnati Libraries website .





May 2021

  • Chemistry major Ethan Iverson ’21 presented his research project titled “Synthesis and Characterization of Three Schiff Base Constitutional Isomers and Their Respective Copper (II) Complexes” at the Spring 2021 American Chemical Society Virtual Convention. The poster presentation resulted from research that Iverson completed with Director of General Chemistry Labs Willis Weigand. Iverson was also awarded the Outstanding Senior Award by the American Chemical Society, which was presented at a virtual awards ceremony by the local Central Texas chapter.





April 2021

  • Ethan Iverson  ’21, a research student of Director of General Chemistry Labs Willis Weigand , has been invited to present his poster, “Synthesis and Characterization of Three Schiff Base Constitutional Isomers and Their Respective Copper (II) Complexes,” at the Spring American Chemical Society National Meeting. He was selected to present his poster during a live, online Inorganic Technical Division session on April 21, 2021.





March 2021

  • Sean Calvert ’22, in collaboration with Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mike Gesinski, received the prestigious American Chemical Society Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). As a fellow, Calvert will receive funding to study gold catalysis over the summer under Gesinski’s mentorship. Additionally, Calvert has been invited to attend an awards ceremony, present his research at a poster session, and tour Pfizer Research and Development Labs in Groton, CT.





  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sara Massey coauthored an article titled “Photosynthesis Tunes Quantum-Mechanical Mixing of Electronic and Vibrational States to Steer Exciton Energy Transfer” in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The peer-reviewed paper shows evidence that photosynthetic bacteria use quantum-mechanical mechanisms to protect themselves from oxidative damage. The paper was coauthored with scientists at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis.





January 2021

  • Professor of Chemistry and the Herbert and Kate Dishman Chair in Science Emily Niemeyer published an article titled “Hands-on Experiences for Remotely Taught Analytical Chemistry Laboratories” in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. The article is a contribution to the “ABCs of Education and Professional Development in Analytical Science” portion of the journal and is part of a series on teaching analytical chemistry during the pandemic. Coauthored with Joel Destino and Erin Gross from Creighton University and Steven Petrovic from Southern Oregon University, the peer-reviewed pedagogical article provides an overview of different methodologies that provide hands-on laboratory experiences to students in remote and hybrid analytical chemistry courses. The collaborative article stemmed from Niemeyer’s role as a facilitator at regional and national active-learning workshops for analytical chemistry faculty. Find the article here.





December 2020

  • Garey Chair and Professor of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote published an article “Using Student-Centered Approaches to Teach the Biochemistry of SARS-CoV-2” in the journal Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education.The article discusses pedagogical approaches to enhance science literacy and model authentic science inquiry in biochemistry. This same learning framework was used when the class quickly shifted to learning about the biochemistry of SARS-CoV-2 last spring.





October 2020

  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer published an article titled “Instituting a Group Component to a Final Exam” in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. The article is a contribution to the “ABCs of Education and Professional Development in Analytical Science” portion of the journal and was coauthored with Tom Wenzel from Bates College. The peer-reviewed pedagogical article provides an overview of considerations for adding a collaborative group element to final exams in upper-level analytical chemistry courses. The work stemmed from Niemeyer and Wenzel’s ongoing collaboration as facilitators at regional and national active-learning workshops for analytical chemistry faculty.





  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer and Derrica McDowell ’20 published a chapter titled “Factors Influencing the Production of Phenolic Compounds within Basil ( Ocimum basilicum L. )” in the forthcoming book Ocimum: An Overview.  Their chapter discusses the phenolic compounds found within basil and their associated health benefits, explains various strategies to increase phytochemical levels in basil, and offers conclusions about methods that can be used to maximize basil phenolic content. The book is part of the Herbs and Herbalism  series published by Nova Science Publishers. Research for the chapter was supported by the Herbert and Kate Dishman fund at Southwestern University.





August 2020

  • Garey Chair and Professor of Chemistry Maha Zewail-Foote  published an article in the Journal of Chemical Education  on transitioning her biochemistry lab class to a remote format. She described the assignments she created that maintained the research learning objectives of the course and enhanced research skills as well as the community outreach project, Making a Difference, that she developed for the class.





April 2020

  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer, Jiyoun Ahn ’17, and Andie Alford ’17 published an article titled “Variation in Phenolic Profiles and Antioxidant Properties among Medicinal and Culinary Herbs of the LamiaceaeFamily” in the most recent issue of the Journal of Food Measurement and Characterization. Ahn and Alford grew 23 common and less-well-known Lamiaceaeplants during the SCOPE summer research program and then analyzed them for their chemistry capstone research. Niemeyer completed the project by conducting mass spectral analysis of the herbs during her spring 2019 sabbatical in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin. The research was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Robert A. Welch Foundation, and the Herbert and Kate Dishman endowment.





March 2020

  • Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer and Katie McCance ’15 published an article titled “Classroom Observations to Characterize Active Learning within Introductory Undergraduate Science Courses” in the March/April issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching. The authors discuss the analysis of observation data to characterize different instructional practices in science classrooms. McCance, a doctoral student in the Department of STEM Education at North Carolina State University, and Niemeyer collaborated on the study with Timothy Weston, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The research was completed with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).





Feburary 2020

  • Professor of Biology and Chair of the Pre-Med Advisory Committee Maria Cuevas was the recipient of the inaugural Advisor of the Year Award conferred by the Texas Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (TAAHP). The award was created to recognize a TAAHP member who has exhibited excellence in health professions advising over the past year. Cuevas added significant resources for students in her first two years as Southwestern’s chief faculty pre-health advisor and chair of the Pre-Med Committee, including a robust pre-health website, a physical home for pre-health students in the new science building, and an enhanced process for committee recommendation letters.