Stanna Dorn Wins ACS Merck Research Award

Stanna Dorn, a fifth-year graduate student in the laboratory of Professor M. Kevin Brown, was selected as one of eight recipients of the 2021 Merck Research Award by the Women Chemist’s Committee (WCC) of the American Chemical Society.  She presented her work at a virtual symposium during the ACS 2021 Fall Hybrid National Meeting in August.  Stanna and I discussed her research and service activities in the Department as well as her experiences as an ACS WCC/Merck Research Awardee.

Graduate student Stanna Dorn.

Stanna came to IU in 2017 after completing her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Bachelor of Arts in Music (Flute/piccolo) at Hope College in Holland, MI.  While at Hope she participated in a wide array of research projects including participating in a large, distributed study of mycobacteriophage DNA sequences in collaboration with Professor Graham F. Hatfull at the University of Pittsburgh; surveying metals found in tattoo inks by particle induced X-ray emission and scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive spectroscopy in collaboration with Graham Peaslee now at Notre Dame; a summer synthesizing novel non-native substrates for evaluation in an enzymatic system in the laboratory of Professor John Montgomery at the University of Michigan; and two years in the laboratory of Professor Jeffery B. Johnson at Hope synthesizing and studying quinolinyl ketones in Rh-catalyzed C-C bond activations.  These experiences equipped Stanna well for success in Kevin Brown’s at IU lab and instilled an appreciation for the importance of mentoring undergraduate students.  She has directly mentored two undergraduate students so far working with Professor Brown.

Her work in the Brown lab has focused on Cu/Pd catalysis for the arylboration of alkenes and more recently a double allylation reagent for complex diol synthesis.  A novel type III double-allylation strategy she developed makes use of two different boron-containing groups on a single substrate permitting the installation of four contiguous stereocenters and the first observed direct allylation by a Bdan protected reagent.  Furthermore, this dual-catalytic approach provides an opportunity for unique tailoring of the metal ligand environments to allow precise control of stereochemistry of multiple chiral centers during a complex synthesis.  This work was recognized with the Merck Research Award, and the 2021 paper describing it included Annika E. Tharp (B.S. in Chemistry, 2021), an undergraduate researcher she mentored in the Brown lab, as a co-author.  Dorn pointed out that Annika got the first successful hit with this in late 2019, but it was difficult move the project forward while operating under COVID restrictions.  Unfortunately, Ms. Tharp could no longer synthesize substrates as all in-person research was suspended in March 2020.  Stanna was able to characterize the system and demonstrate its utility while working odd shifts (to reduce lab occupancy) in summer and fall 2020.  Stanna has earned three Departmental awards and fellowships during her time at since joining the Department in 2017, the Appleton Award in 2020 and both the Chester Davis Fellowship and the Jack Crandall Award in 2021.

Dorn also has dedicated herself to improving both the research climate and the educational experience for her fellow organic chemists here at IUB.  She is a founding member of Women in Organic Chemistry at Indiana University (WOC@IU), a student directed organization that provides a support community and platform for effecting change within the Department.  Dorn mentioned that the ability to quickly recruit 25 women organic chemists to launch this community reflects well on the research climate within the department.  Networking and connection are especially important as we recover from the social and mental effects of our COVID-19 response.

We closed our conversation by discussing what the Merck Symposium at the Fall ACS Meeting was like.  Stanna said she was honored to be included in such an amazing group of young scholars who work covered organic catalysis, medicinal chemistry, lipid mass spectrometry, microbial enzyme chemistry, and computational biochemistry.  She also discussed the mentor from Merck that she was paired with.  The two of them meet monthly and Stanna finds these meetings insightful and helpful to her continued research in the Brown lab.  When asked about her future plans, Dorn replied that her current goal is to finish her thesis research.  She then hopes to go on to a post-doctoral fellowship and seek an academic position.