Thursday, May 30, 2024

Graduate Will Hughes turns his passion for chemistry into an opportunity to see the world

Graduate Will Hughes turns his passion for chemistry into an opportunity to see the world

MAY 24, 2024 — As an undergraduate, William Hughes conducted research in the Organic and Medicinal Chemistry laboratory at UTSA as a member of the Larionov Group. Led by Oleg Larionov, the Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry, the research team conducts cutting-edge organic chemistry that has the potential to impact several industries, including health care.

In the lab, Hughes learned many career-related skills that have prepared him for doctoral studies such as evaluating others’ research, presenting his research findings to scientific and general audiences and collaborating on a team. This work has led to published papers in peer-reviewed journals Chemical Science and ACS Catalysis.

“I feel extremely blessed and fortunate to have worked in a group that allowed me to contribute significantly to multiple research projects,” Hughes said. “Publishing as an undergraduate is an amazing privilege and honor, and being able to say that I have contributed to the body of scientific knowledge and the discovery of new things is still wild to think about.”

Last week, Hughes crossed the stage with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

This fall, the UTSA Top Scholar and 2024 UTSA National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award winner will begin his doctoral studies in chemistry at Colorado State University (CSU). But he sees this opportunity as more than the next phase in his academic journey. It is an opportunity to expand his world view, he says.

“During this time, I hope to attend as many conferences as possible to see more of the U.S. and the world,” Hughes said.

UTSA Today spoke with Hughes to learn more about him and what lies ahead.

The following story has been edited for length and clarity.

“I feel extremely blessed and fortunate to have worked in a group that allowed me to contribute significantly to multiple research projects.”

What attracted you to chemistry?

WH: I have always been more of a “learn and apply rules” student rather than a “memorize facts” student. Chemistry, specifically physical and computational chemistry, allows me to follow this mindset while fulfilling my interest in studying how the world works. The research I am interested in is a few steps upstream of directly impacting health care. To be able to prescribe drugs, we need to be able to create the molecules. To be able to create the molecules, we need to have a powerful and diverse array of tools. To be able to develop these tools, we need to understand our current tools better.

In chemistry, our tools are reactions, and I want to help the world understand them. This will have an impact on health care through a domino effect and in other realms where chemistry is important such as agriculture, materials and manufacturing, cosmetics, food and other industries.

Tell us about the person who was most influential in your educational journey.

WH: Dr. Gail Taylor, the assistant program director for the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement at UTSA, had a profound impact on my education. She convinced me that research was a viable career option for me. She also gave me the skills and knowledge I needed to excel in research as an undergraduate.

What advice do you have for your fellow Roadrunners?

WH: There are so many resources on campus for internships, research, networking, mentorship and professional development opportunities. Look around at what best fits your needs and take advantage of the resources UTSA provides. I took advantage of the cooking classes and the exercise facilities at the UTSA Recreation and Wellness Center, counseling services, tutoring through the Tomás Rivera Center, and met with faculty in my field who were always happy to give academic and career advice.

What is your next big adventure?

WH: I will begin a Ph.D. in Computational Chemistry at CSU in the fall. CSU has a great organic chemistry program with several accomplished faculty and an impressive set of instruments that anyone in the department can use. There are a few researchers who have done highly impactful work in computational chemistry, the field I am interested in, and I am excited to get to work for and learn from these faculty members. Fort Collins is also a beautiful town with a vibrant and interesting culture, and I will be happy to see snow for the first time in a few years. I am probably most excited to continue researching, learning more about chemistry, and contributing to scientific knowledge, as I really love what I do. A cross-country move is significant for me, as I have only ever lived in Texas, and leaving behind my family will be the hardest part of this next step in my adventure.

Learn more about the UTSA College of Sciences.
Check out UTSA’s Commencement website.

Ultimately, where do you see yourself long-term?

WH: Over the long term, I would like to research this kind of fundamental understanding of the tools that chemistry offers us as a researching professor in academia. I owe much of my success to the professors who have mentored and supported me during my time at UTSA, and I love performing research and furthering our understanding of chemistry. I would love to give back in a similar way to students in the future by teaching and leading a university research group.

Ryan Schoensee

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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