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Nguyen named ACS outstanding organic chemistry senior

UT Arlington chemistry student Hiep Nguyen, who is graduating with a B.S. in Biochemistry this month, has received the Outstanding Senior Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Student from the American Chemical Society’s Division of Organic Chemistry.

The award recognizes senior students who have displayed a significant aptitude for organic chemistry as evidenced by their formal course work as well as their research accomplishments during the course of their undergraduate studies, according to the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry. It also recognizes the recipient’s desire to pursue a career in chemistry.

Nguyen is one of only a handful of recipients of the award from selected universities nationwide. He was nominated by his faculty mentor, Junha Jeon, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and selected by UT Arlington chemistry faculty. Nguyen will begin working toward a Ph.D. in chemistry at UT Arlington in August.

“This is such a great honor for me,” Nguyen said of the award. “Since my mentor nominated me for this award, I was first very thankful for his appreciation of my work and the ACS Organic Division’s recognition. I never thought that I would receive this award when I found out what it was for, because I know so many undergraduate researchers at UTA who have made significant contributions to organic chemistry. I think they all deserve this award as much as I do. Thus, I am very surprised, grateful and humble to receive such recognition.”

Nguyen says his interest in organic chemistry began to blossom when he took Jeon’s class as a sophomore in Fall 2011. He asked to join Jeon’s research laboratory that December and has been working on complex experiments in the lab ever since. Most of his work involves new synthetic methods for potential therapeutic agents. Specifically, his research focuses on developing efficient transition-metal-catalyzed transformations and trying to understand the reaction mechanisms.

“I felt that Hiep was sincere and was eager to learn science,” Jeon said of his reaction when Nguyen asked to join his lab group. “I quickly found that he is exceptional. For the past three years, Hiep has been working on an area of organic chemistry, particularly the development of transition-metal-catalyzed olefin functionalization reactions. Hiep is one of my first undergraduate students, and this research area was very new to him; certainly this is not an undergraduate level research topic. However, he recognizes many key concepts of complex catalytic processes and organic synthesis.”

Jeon says Nguyen’s exceptional critical thinking and scientific abilities led in 2013 to the publication of his first work in Organic Letters, one of the most prestigious journals in organic chemistry.

“His excellent experimental skills and efforts, as well as his understanding of reaction mechanisms, were a key to the success of this project,” Jeon said. “Hiep continued to work on the development of a new catalytic process, which resulted in an additional publication. We reported the results in the

Hiep Nguyen
European Journal of Organic Chemistryin 2014. Two publications by undergraduate students in top-tier journals are rare.”

Nguyen says he wasn’t a standout chemistry student in high school because he didn’t devote the necessary time to the subject. But once he dedicated himself, took Jeon’s course and joined his lab group, his love of the subject soared.

“I soon saw the beauty of organic chemistry through my studying and solving problems,” he said. “Moreover, I was very lucky to join Dr. Jeon’s laboratory after I successfully completed his course. I fell in love with working in the lab and appreciated the patience, attention to details, and problem-solving skills that I learned from my mentor and other graduate students whom I worked with. Working in the lab and doing research taught me so many invaluable lessons, not only in organic chemistry but also in life.”

Nguyen is no stranger to awards and recognition during his college career. He has been named to the Dean’s List for four semesters and received the R.L. Hoyle Award for Outstanding Junior (2013) and the John T. Murchison Award for Outstanding Senior (2014) from the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. He has served as public relations officer for the Science Constituency Council (SCC) for the past four years and was named the organization’s outstanding officer three times. He also found time to serve as a supplementary instruction leader for the department’s sophomore Organic Chemistry courses for the last two years.

Nguyen says he hopes to continue with a career in chemistry after earning his Ph.D.

“I love doing research and teaching chemistry, so I hope I can continue to do these jobs in the future,” he said.

Jeon is confident of Nguyen’s future success as a chemist.

“With Hiep’s breadth of knowledge in the area of chemistry, his excellent experimental skills and research experience, his remarkable personality, in conjunction with his high level of commitment to hard work, I have every confidence that he will be an excellent future scientist,” Jeon said.

Posted May 18, 2015