Chemistry students selected Beckman Institute Graduate Fellows

Michael Pence, left, and Chelsea Swartchick

Chemistry PhD students Michael Pence and Chelsea Swartchick are among the seven Illinois students selected to receive 2023 Beckman Institute Graduate Fellowships.

Read the entire Beckman Institute announcement.

Michael Pence is pursuing his PhD in chemistry. He earned his BS in chemistry from Indiana University in 2019.

Pence’s proposed work aims to streamline the process for optimization of electrochemical transformations through an automated electrochemistry platform, called the Electrolab. Pence will use the Electrolab to screen conditions for oxidization of common biomass byproducts, such as glycerol and polyols, a process that leads to value-added chemicals. The top-performing electrochemical catalysts employed in these reactions will be converted to redox-active polymers, a process that allows for their recovery and reuse after each iteration of the discovery process. In total, Pence’s work will provide a novel platform for screening one-pot electrochemical reactions on byproduct mixtures, using a process that is automated and easily screened for catalyst activity.

Pence will collaborate with Joaquín Rodríguez-López, an associate professor of chemistry; Charles Schroeder, a professor of materials science and engineering; Jeffrey Moore, a professor emeritus and the Stanley O. Ikenberry Research Professor of Chemistry; and Nick Jackson, an assistant professor of chemistry.

Chelsea Swartchick is pursuing her PhD in organic chemistry. She earned her BS in chemistry with a biochemistry concentration from the University of Portland in 2019.

Swartchick’s proposed research is focused on developing a novel therapeutic intervention for diabetes patients. The most prevalent form of diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, is defined by resistance to insulin signaling pathways in the liver along with downregulation of heat shock proteins, which protect cells from various stressors like UV radiation, hypoxia, and extreme temperatures. Swartchick aims to synthesize a liver-targeting nanoparticle containing a photothermal therapeutic agent, which is designed to induce a heat-shock response in liver cells, thereby upregulating production of protective heat-shock proteins and improving sensitivity to insulin.

Swartchick will collaborate with Jefferson Chan, an associate professor of chemistry; and Wawrzyniec Dobrucki, an associate professor of bioengineering and head of the Beckman Experimental Molecular Imaging Laboratory.