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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

Jackson Shuman and Jeremy Erb posing in the organic chemistry lab

Organic Growth

Jeremy Erb's passion for organic chemistry synthesized in university and professional labs. Now an associate professor at UD, Erb is determined to foster curiosity and community among his students through hands-on lab experience.

"I thrive interacting with people and sharing the experience — the joy, the disappointment — it makes the lab experience richer," Erb said. "The students who are in the lab are just as excited as I am to be there and learn things, and when I see their excitement, it fuels me."

Specializing in organic synthesis and computational chemistry, Erb focuses on controlling chirality, the 3D structure of molecules, and developing new chemical reactions. He invites his organic chemistry students to join his research in the lab, an opportunity seized by senior biochemistry major Jackson Shuman three years ago.

"Organic synthesis is tough. It doesn't always work, but it's rewarding that one time in a hundred when it does. And if I feel discouraged, Jeremy reminds me it will always work out," Shuman said. "He's helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel on more than one occasion, ensuring the dream didn't die."

With Erb's mentorship and the financial help of the Michael and Kathleen Flaugh Endowed Research Fellowship, Shuman has since: completed a Dean's Summer Fellowship for his honor's thesis, presented his research findings at the Stander Symposium last year on chiral organophosphonates (an important component of some antiviral pharmaceutical development), introduced incoming first-year students to the lab during Erb's Chemistry Research Encounter summer camp, and worked as a supplemental instructor to provide additional resources for students in organic chemistry classes.

It took time to build on the skills to make those achievements possible, and time to let the reactions happen — or not. "Sometimes the reactions are unpredictable, so you don't know how long it will take. It may finish five hours after you think it will," Erb said.

"A long time ago, people wouldn't enter the lab before completing their Ph.D., which just seems wild to me now," said Erb, who has been conducting research and teaching for nearly 15 years. "Now undergrad students can test the waters to see if working in a lab is in their career path. It's low stakes, too — they don't have to stick it out if they don't like it — but if they do, they will be better candidates."

By connecting with students earlier in their undergrad experience, the results can look like Shuman's experience — he'll be presenting the next section of research at the Stander Symposium in April.

"Getting all this research experience has helped make me a more competitive candidate in my applications for graduate school," Shuman said. "It's not only given me the opportunity now to be in a lab and get the experience under my belt, but set me up for what's next as a doctoral student at The Ohio State University."

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