Zach Burke in blue and orange graduation regalia sits in a sculpture outside the CLSL/RAL building on campus.

Zach Burke

Dual degree: Bachelor of Science in chemistry and Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics

Undergraduate research: I was in the group of Mikael Backlund where I worked on super resolution via image inversion interferometry. Through this research, we are able to provide better insights into the smallest and largest scales by improving information in the fields of biochemistry and astronomy.

Awards and honors: Royal Society of Chemistry certificate of Undergraduate Excellence, John C. Bailar Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, Fred C. and Josephine C. Falkner Scholarship, University of Illinois High Achievement in Chemistry Scholarship, 

Activities and organizations: Member of the Marching Illini, American Chemical Society, and UIUC astronomical society

Plans after graduation: I will be attending MIT where I will be pursuing a PhD in physical chemistry

What will you miss most? I will miss spending time with and problem solving with my lab mates.

Favorite class: The physical chemistry labs were amazing because we worked with new instruments and techniques every week that increased my scope of knowledge tremendously.

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? Things are scary and nerve racking but definitely exciting.

What are you most proud of? I am most proud of what I was able to get out of my college experience. Looking back at what I have done I am truly proud of the opportunities that I took advantage of.

Keys to your success as an undergraduate: Participate in undergraduate research! Feel free to explore and jump between labs if something doesn’t feel right or the research isn’t what you are passionate about. It is the best way to gain experience and determine what you want to do with your chemistry degree.


Paul Griffin with hands in pant pockets, stands leaning against one side of arched entrance to Noyes.

Paul Griffin

PhD, chemistry
Advisor: Prof. Lisa Olshansky

Research: My research focused on how copper coordination complexes use spontaneous changes to their geometries - conformational dynamicity - to impact their photochemistry and electron transfer phenomena. Creating systems that are fluxional enables rapid electron transfer and thus may enable the use of copper complexes as redox mediators for batteries. Inversely, conformationally gating electron transfer has the potential to improve photochemical charge separation and give rise to more efficient solar cells.

Awards and honors: T.S. Piper Award for Outstanding Inorganic PhD Thesis (2023); Robert J. Morris Inorganic Chemistry Graduate Student Travel Award (2022); School of Chemical Sciences Graduate Teaching Award (2020).

After graduation? I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels (CHASE), working in the groups of Gerald J. Meyer and Alexander J.M. Miller at UNC Chapel Hill, where I work to use sunlight to convert greenhouse gases into liquid fuels. Ultimately, I would like to become a professor and run my own independent research program.

How does it feel to reach this milestone? Very good! I've learned quite a bit in my time at UIUC and hope to continue learning more as my journey moves on.

Highlight as a graduate student? My highlights have been twofold - getting to work with some awesome colleagues and having the opportunity to mentor several undergraduate students.

Any mentors who were impactful in your educational journey? Lisa Olshansky, in her capacity as my research supervisor - I learned a great deal about science and mentorship while working with her and intend to carry those lessons forward. There are also the staff scientists, in particular Dean Olson, Toby Woods, and Danielle Gray - I learned much about their respective techniques and they were always willing to help.

Why Illinois? Because of the large number of labs working on topics I found interesting.


Parmeet Kaur in blue and orange graduation regalia standing in front of Noyes entrance

Parmeet Kaur

Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences, chemistry

Undergraduate research: I worked in Prof. Jeffrey Moore’s lab on the investigation of material properties of a new frontal ring opening metathesis polymerization (FROMP) monomer called norbornene acetate. This new monomer introduces polarity in FROMP and can be used for curing large composite thermosets efficiently.

Awards and honors: James Scholar, 
J.J. Lagowski Scholarship in Chemistry, Stanley R. Levy Leadership Scholarship, Homer J. and Edith M. Birch Scholarship, Oliver J. Bell Merit Scholarship in Chemical Sciences, Office of Minority Student Affairs Scholastic Award

lans after graduation: I will be joining SC Johnson for their Research and Development (R&D) Early Career Development Program in Racine, WI, starting in August. This is a three-year program with three year-long rotations in various departments across R&D. For the summer, I will be traveling to Italy and enjoying my time off.

Activities and organizations: American Chemical Society, Women in Chemical Sciences, Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, Volunteer Illini Projects, Chem 150 Peer Mentor, New Student Programs Orientation Leader

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? I would say my time at Illinois flew by, but I definitely enjoyed every bit of it. I am looking forward to sharing this moment with my family and friends and excited about the future!

ighlight as a student at Illinois: A highlight of my time at UIUC would be serving as President of the ACS student chapter and Women in Chemical Sciences. Both of these opportunities allowed me to become a better leader and develop various soft skills.

ny mentors who were impactful in your educational journey? My undergraduate research mentor Jacob Lessard and SCS career services coordinator Jennifer Tasneem have been extremely impactful throughout my undergrad career. Jacob helped me become a better researcher and taught me various technical skills. Jennifer guided me throughout my internship/job search and provided me with necessary resources to be successful.

Why Illinois? I chose to attend Illinois because it has a surplus of opportunities for all students. As a chemistry student, I knew I wanted to get involved in research and Illinois being a research institution was the best choice. Besides academics, Illinois is a great university to grow as an individual and build life-long friends.


Outdoor portrait of Amalia standing in a grassy area with a light brown picket fence in background

Amalia Kovich

Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences, chemistry, and a minor in teacher education in secondary school teaching

Awards and honors: Robert L. and Rena M. Williams Scholarship, ACS-Hach Land Grant Scholarship, Dean’s List

Activities/organizations: American Chemical Society, Epsilon Delta Teaching Fraternity, REACT Outreach Program, Student Education Association, Illinithon Dance Marathon

Plans after graduation: I will be teaching Chemistry and Physics at a high school in the Chicago suburbs

What will you miss most? The community! Campus has always had such welcoming vibes, and I’ll be sad to leave it.

Favorite class: Chem 495. We were able to design our own labs and test them out to create a final unit plan; I learned a lot about how to help students understand chemistry in a fun, engaging way.

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? Sad but exciting!

What are you most proud of? I’m most proud of persevering through the difficulties that came with going away to college during a worldwide pandemic and finding success.

Keys to your success as an undergraduate: Working hard, making connections, finding my passion.


Olivia Nobbs in orange and blue graduation regalia leaning on a concrete statue in front of Noyes entrance.

Olivia Nobbs

Degree: Bachelor of Science in chemistry

Plans after graduation: After graduation, I plan on continuing being a pharmacy technician while I work on earning my master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences in applied drug development from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Activities and organizations: American Chemical Society, Women in Chemical Sciences, and Alpha Chi Sigma.

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? It’s crazy to finally be graduating undergrad. The years flew by so fast but I’m ready to see what the future holds.

Highlight as a student at Illinois: A highlight of my time as a student at Illinois would be all the different chemistry labs that I have been able to take. Going from the different experiments in high school to the ones here was such a big change and it was really cool to see what more elaborate experiments can look like.

Why Illinois? Illinois has a lot of opportunities to be involved in different groups and clubs. There is definitely some club for everyone. And there are so many people that you can meet that I was able to make so many friends while here.




Arisu Oya in orange and blue graduation regalia sitting on steps of campus building.

Arisu Oya

Double major – Bachelor of Science in chemistry and molecular and cellular biology

Undergraduate research: In Prof. Wilfred van der Donk’s lab, our research focused on discovering the mechanism behind ribosomally synthesized and post translationally modified peptides. My role involved purifying peptides using nickel resin columns and HPLC for further analysis with NMR. For the ABC lab, I created 3-D models of a clickbettle from CT scans. Research is important to me because it allows me to apply theoretical knowledge from my courses in practical, real-world settings. Additionally, it provides me with valuable experience that extends beyond the traditional classroom environment.

Awards and honors: Deans list all four years, 2020 Rhetoric Student Essay Contest, Academic Distinction: Molecular and Cellular Biology

Plans after graduation: I am currently exploring opportunities to enter industry, and I may pursue getting a Master's degree in the future.

Activities and organizations: Japanese Student Association (JSA)

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? It feels surreal to be graduating and concluding this intense period of exams and studies. Although part of me feels a bit unprepared to leave the familiar routine of academia, I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead with my degrees in chemistry and biology. I am looking forward to embracing the new challenges and adventures that await me in my professional journey.

Highlight as a student at Illinois: A highlight of my time at Illinois was successfully balancing my academic responsibilities with an active social life. The university had many activities, from social gathering to cultural events, ensuring there was always something new to learn each week. This experience not only enhanced my time management skills but also deeply enriched my overall university experience, allowing me to build lasting friendships while meeting my academic goals.

Why Illinois? Because it is a highly-ranked institution that also has a welcoming environment. Growing up in Illinois, I was not quite ready to leave my home state, and UIUC stood out as one of my top choices. Reflecting on my decision, I have no regrets. Attending UIUC allowed me to make wonderful new friends and gain invaluable knowledge.


Portrait of Joel Ryan standing outdoors with head turned to the side and large pillars in the background

Joel Ryan

Double Major: Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) and Chemistry

Undergrad research: I worked in the psychology department under Dr. Nu-Chu Liang. I completed my thesis this year on a pilot study investigating the interaction between the APOE4 genotype and alcohol administration as risk factors for Alzheimer's-like symptoms in rats. It was very interesting to learn to interpret data and think like a real scientist, developing ideas that may lead to a better understanding of a very common disease.

Awards and honors: Worth H. Rodebush Award, James Scholar, Academic Distinction in MCB, Highest Research Distinction in MCB

Activities and organizations: MEDLIFE UIUC (Community volunteering) — Treasurer, Director of Development; and Illini Democrats — Treasurer, Secretary

Plans after graduation: Attending Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

What will you miss most? I will miss the University of Illinois community as it is very vibrant. There were so many great people I got to meet during my time in undergrad, both students and faculty, that I will miss getting to be around.

Favorite class: CHEM 232 was the most engaging class I participated in. I have always loved chemistry, and I really enjoyed a look at the chemistry of organic systems as I study biology. I was fascinated by synthesis and loved learning rules and reactions to combine to solve a chemical puzzle. I also had an exceptional instructor for whom I was fortunate to work as an SI and discussion TA.

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? It is a little scary taking my next step, but I am proud of everything I accomplished and grateful for my experiences at UIUC.

What are you most proud of? I am most proud of my understanding of science as a discipline. Coming into college, I loved learning about science, and I still do. However, I now understand the skills and work required to discover scientific facts and hypotheses. It is truly amazing to sit through a lecture and think about all of the experiments and work that had to go into all the information presented to you. Science is an ever-evolving field of knowledge of which I am happy to take part.

Keys to success as an undergraduate? Strong social network and passion for learning


Head shot of Zipeng Shen on a white background

Zipeng Shen

Bachelor of Science in chemistry

Undergraduate research: My undergraduate research focused on studying the ion-pairing interactions between carbocations and Keggin anions, as well as investigating the phase transition in barium phosphomolybdate hydrate crystals. This research is important because understanding the factors influencing ion-pairing interactions can help elucidate the catalytic mechanisms involving Keggin anions and carbocations, potentially leading to the development of more efficient catalysts. Additionally, studying phase transitions in Keggin polyoxometalate crystals can provide insights into the structure-property relationships of these materials, which may have practical applications in fields such as molecular electronics.

Awards and honors: Dr. Virgil Walter Gash Scholarship for Excellence in Chemistry 2022-2023, Timothy A. Nieman Memorial Scholarship 2021-2022, J. J. Lagowski Scholarship in Chemistry 2021-2022, Oliver J. Bell Merit Scholarship in Chemical Sciences 2020-2021, Homer and Edith M. Birch Scholarship 2020-2021, Dean's List every semester

Plans after graduation? Going for the PhD chemistry program at MIT (inorganic track).

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? Reaching this milestone and becoming part of the Illinois alumni community is a truly incredible feeling, filled with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude. As I reflect on my journey at the University of Illinois, I am overwhelmed with appreciation for the invaluable experiences and opportunities that have shaped me into the person I am today.

Highlight of your time at Illinois? A highlight of my time as a student at Illinois was the opportunity to conduct independent research under the guidance of Prof. Klemperer. Working on my own project and being helped by the Girolami group, the Rauchfuss group and Prof. Hirata provided me with a rich learning experience that greatly enhanced my skills and knowledge as a chemist.

Any mentors who were impactful in your educational journey? My research advisor, Prof. Walter G. Klemperer, has been an exceptionally impactful mentor throughout my educational journey. He not only provided me with the opportunity to work on an independent research project but also guided me through the process, fostering my critical thinking skills and scientific curiosity. Prof. Klemperer's dedication to teaching and his emphasis on integrity and perseverance have had a profound influence on my personal and professional development, shaping me into the chemist and individual I am today.

Why Illinois? I chose to attend the University of Illinois because of its strong reputation in chemistry and the abundant resources it offers to its students. During my time here, I have indeed benefited from the numerous opportunities to learn and grow as a chemist, thanks to the outstanding faculty and facilities. Furthermore, being surrounded by a community of driven and passionate fellow students has created a collaborative and inspiring learning environment that has contributed significantly to my academic success and personal growth.

Ananya Singh stands, leaning on a statue, in front of the Noyes entrance.

Ananya Singh

Double Major: Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences in chemistry and psychology

Undergraduate research: I was in the Neurocognitive Health Behavior Lab under Dr. Naiman Khan and the PLAY Lab under Dr. Shelby Keye. In both labs I assisted with a variety of studies related to kinesiology and neuroscience. Under the mentorship of Dr. Keye, I presented my senior project, titled "Household CHAOS is Related to Physical Activity in Children from Low-Income Households," at the Midwest American College of Sports Medicine Conference in October 2023. The research I conducted is helping us to understand whether children from vulnerable populations, including disorganized and low-income households, may be particularly vulnerable to the negative cognitive and developmental effects of a lack of physical activity. My first-author manuscript of this project will be submitted for publication this summer.

Awards and honors: Dean's List (Fall 2021-Spring 2024); James Scholar; University of Illinois Conference Travel Grant; Dr. Eugene Kent Borchart Memorial Award in Chemistry.

Activities and organizations: Camp Kesem, CHEM 150 Mentor, CHEM 232 Student Instructor, Champaign County Christian Health Center volunteer, and Phi Delta Epsilon.

After graduation: I will be pursuing my medical degree at Saint Louis University School of Medicine beginning in July 2024.

What will you miss? The people! I found such amazing friends and mentors at the University of Illinois and within the Chemistry department who provided so much support as I worked towards my goals over the last four years. None of this, including getting through gen chem, would have been possible without the sense of community I found at the U of I.

Favorite class: CHEM 232 and CHEM 332 -- organic chemistry was so challenging for me at first but once I started to see my hours and hours of endless studying pay off, I was further motivated to keep working hard. I love the mechanisms and patterns that are so key to mastering organic chemistry and being able to help other students succeed in such a daunting class. Being part of the teaching team for CHEM 232 was a highlight of my time at Illinois.

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum?
Bittersweet. The last four years haven't been easy, and I know there are many challenges to come as I move on to medical school, but I am so grateful for all of the growth I experienced at Illinois, and I feel very lucky to leave knowing I have such a supportive community cheering me on as I enter this next chapter.

What are you most proud of? Hanging in there through the hardest times and not losing sight of the end goal. As difficult as it was entering college in the middle of the pandemic, I'm very glad that I didn't walk away from my dream of going into medicine despite how impossible it felt 4 years ago.

Keys to success as an undergraduate? Upperclassmen who turned into mentors, faculty mentors — thank you Dr. Jordan Axelson and Dr. Christian Ray — health professions advising, and finding community on campus.

Black and white photo of Daniel Szczepankiewicz in the lab with his arms in a glove box.

Daniel Szczepankiewicz

PhD in chemistry
Co-advised by Prof. David Sarlah and Prof. Angad Mehta

Research: Developed methods in high throughput experimentation for applications in both chemistry and biology. In the Sarlah Group, developed chemistry in a platform dubbed "Reaction Mining" for the discovery of novel chemical reactivity, and in the Mehta Group, developed methods for the assessment of small molecule inhibitors of viral genome-capping enzymes.

Awards and honors: Vanderveer Vorhees Original Research Proposal Award and Kosciuszko Foundation Scholar

Plans after graduation? I will be a Platform Engineer at Octant Bio in the Bay area, using robotics for nanoscale synthesis and in-vivo assessment of small molecule therapeutics.

Activities and organizations? CU Plant People, the local plant-swapping and gardening group

How does it feel to reach this milestone? Definitely a big weight off of my shoulders, ready for what's next.

A highlight of your time at Illinois?
I did genuinely enjoy working on my Original Research Proposal. I wanted to learn plant tissue culture due to my existing interest in horticulture, and my proposal topic allowed me to do so in the context of metabolic engineering towards some secondary plant metabolites. Similarly, my 535 literature seminar allowed me to learn some biocatalysis that I wouldn't have picked up in my research alone.

Any mentors who were especially impactful? Alexander Shved was a great mentor and friend throughout my entire graduate research process, as well as both Christopher Huck and Yaroslav Boyko for their detailed assessment of my written works and synthetic proposals.

Why Illinois? There's something about this department, the water always tasted just a bit sweeter here.

Andrew Yue

Bachelor of Science in chemistry

Undergraduate research: Participated in research in Prof. Christina White’s lab.

Activities/organizations: Academic Chair of American Chemical Society

Plans after graduation? Pursuing a PhD in Organic Chemistry at Harvard University

How does it feel to be an Illinois alum? It feels surreal that I'll be leaving Illinois. It feels like yesterday that I was a freshman.

Highlight of your time at Illinois? The highlight of my time at Illinois has been the friendships that I made along the way. I am certainly going to miss playing basketball and tennis, rock climbing, and grabbing food/coffee with my friends.

Why Illinois? U of I is a really big school, and there are so many opportunities to discover what you enjoy. I think there's a lot of diversity in the people you will meet, and that is a quality that I strongly value.