An undergraduate chemistry major in the Class of 2025, Diego Lopez is an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of chemistry Prof. David Sarlah in the Organic Area and his favorite class so far at Illinois has been Fundamental Organic Chemistry I and II. Lopez was a recipient of a Milan Mrksich Scholarship for Undergraduate Research, which enabled Lopez to spend his summer gaining hands on research experience with postdoctoral researchers and graduate students under the advisement of Prof. Sarlah.
Describe your summer undergraduate research experience in one word: Growth
Why chemistry? I chose chemistry because of the challenge and innovation of organic chemistry. I've always loved the feeling of mastering a concept or answering a question only for more to come up. The way that the world around us is full of so many complex and unique compounds that serve so many different purposes to us. Being a chemist, to me, means actively searching for ways to engage with the world around me and discovering new ways to use its resources to help it and us.
What are you doing as an undergraduate researcher? My research is in the study of natural products. The Sarlah Group gives me the opportunity to dive head first into research the total synthesis of natural products. These natural products have particularly complex and difficult structures to recreate. But the difficulty and possible benefits of synthetically developing these products is very interesting. Right now, I'm synthesizing the synthetic building blocks to make Ineleganolide, a natural product that is found in soft coral.
What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest success so far? [This summer research experience] pushed me to be more self-sufficient and rely on my intuition while still receiving aid from my graduate student mentors. Many techniques not commonly found in my organic chemistry lab are applied in my research and the expectations that come with them. Letting myself absorb this knowledge has been a difficult yet welcome challenge. This experience will surely benefit me in the future steps of my research. I feel that my greatest success was fully understanding organic synthesis's mechanistic and technical parts. Unknown reactions or uncertainty that I was able to overcome felt great.