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Chemistry PhD candidate Johnny Lee

Johnny Lee, a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry, has been named a 2020 Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Future Leader by the American Chemical Society (ACS). 

Chemistry PhD candidate Johnny Lee
Chemistry PhD candidate Johnny Lee

A division of ACS for more than 110 years, CAS provides products and services that help empower scientific discoveries. Its 11 year-old Future Leaders program awards early-career scientists with leadership training and a trip to the ACS National Meeting and Exposition. Lee was one of 30 students selected from around the world to participate in the program. 

“I am excited to be part of this leadership training program,” Lee said, “but more importantly, I am truly grateful to my advisor, colleagues and collaborators, without whom this accomplishment would not be possible.”

Lee’s research advisor is Associate Professor Ming-Yu Ngai, Department of Chemistry. Dr. Ngai’s research program uses visible light and catalysts to convert simple and readily available molecules into value-added compounds that have potential in the discovery and development of new therapeutics, agrochemicals and functional materials. While a part of the group, Lee has published more than 10 papers in highly regarded academic journals. His senior research project, published in Chemical Science (Chem. Sci. 2016, 7, 424), earned him the annual Chemistry Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. 

Dr. Ngai is delighted with his mentee’s achievements. “Within the first few months [of joining my research group], I was already able to tell that Johnny had all the necessary qualities to be a successful chemist in the future,” he said. “He is independent and sets a very high standard for everything that he does. Many of his mentees, including undergraduate students, have published papers under his guidance. I am blessed that he decided to pursue his PhD study in my group.” 

Having also attended Stony Brook as an undergrad with the aid of the Educational Opportunity Program, Lee served as the chemistry tutor for the program as a way of giving back. He encouraged students to develop a passion for science and offered them guidance in their research, as well as support and encouragement in their pursuit of STEM careers.

“Since science is so highly collaborative and involves a lot of teamwork, it needs individuals with leadership skills,” Lee said. “These scientific leaders are there to share their vision, inspire, guide, encourage and motivate their colleagues on a successful pathway toward a common goal. I believe that, with a strong leadership in STEM, we can begin to push the boundaries in treating human diseases, fighting climate change and creating a prosperous future.” 

“I just had the good fortune to serve on Johnny’s Doctoral Dissertation defense committee,” said Nicole S. Sampson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and distinguished professor of Chemistry. “He gave an impressive presentation on some yet to be published chemistry for preparing these pharmaceutically important compounds that is even better than his earlier work. I look forward to seeing what Johnny does next!”  

Lee has ideas as to how he plans to implement his leadership training in the future. “I want to foster a collaborative environment built on teamwork, communication and emotional intelligence,” he said. “I believe that the ideas generated from a multi-disciplinary team enable us to solve problems in more creative and efficient ways, as opposed to those formed by individuals who do not have frequent opportunities to interact with one another. I consider it crucial to have a positive attitude and to be proactive to lead research efforts in the laboratory and beyond.” 

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