11th-grade student wins competition with research conducted at UTA

Student honored at largest pre-college STEM competition for her work in Junha Jeon’s lab

Friday, Jun 28, 2024 • Katherine Egan Bennett : contact

Junha Jeon
Junha Jeon

A Plano high school student conducting research in a University of Texas at Arlington chemistry professor’s lab earned multiple awards at the annual Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Regeneron ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college STEM competition for students in grades 9-12.

Chloe Lee, a junior in the International Baccalaureate program at Plano East Senior High School, conducted research in the lab of Junha Jeon, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Her award-winning project, “Chemical Modification of Acetaminophen to Decrease Liver Toxicity,” sought to address the toxicity of the common pain reliever acetaminophen, which is a leading cause of global liver transplantation.

Lee earned the ISEF third-place award of $1,000 in the Chemistry category. The competition also features Special Awards, which are provided by more than 45 professional organizations representing government, industry, and education across a wide variety of scientific disciplines. She received first place from the Patent and Trademark Office Society, second place from the American Chemical Society, and third place from YM American Academy.

Regeneron ISEF is organized by Society for Science, a nonprofit that has been dedicated to expanding scientific literacy, access to STEM education, and scientific research for more than 100 years.

“I chemically modified acetaminophen, the primary active pharmaceutical ingredient in Tylenol, to decrease liver toxicity without sacrificing the drug's effectiveness,” Lee said. “I am very excited and honored to have received multiple awards at ISEF. I felt as if the significance of my research had been recognized, which motivates me to further my work on the subject.”

Chloe Lee
Chloe Lee

Lee was introduced to Jeon last year when she participated in a Sustainable Material Workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Jeon runs the workshop each summer with Ranny So, UTA assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and in collaboration with faculty at Syracuse University, UT Rio Grande Valley, and the State University of New York–College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

The workshop encourages students to pursue careers in STEM fields and features lectures, lab experiences, a tour of university facilities, and workshop certificates. When Lee expressed her interest in organic synthesis research, Jeon offered her the chance to work in his lab.

“I was very fortunate to have this opportunity, and I've honestly enjoyed every moment in the lab,” she said. “Dr. Jeon is an amazing mentor who strengthened my understanding of important underlying chemical mechanisms and apparatuses throughout the research process. He always pushed me to inquire about the research. Furthermore, the resources he provided guided me to the right path. I greatly appreciate his direction.”

Alongside Jeon, Lee was supported by graduate students Suman Das Adhikary and Yao Chung (Jacky) Chang.

“This research is very challenging to a high school student, but Chloe did a wonderful job on design and synthesis of the target molecule and computational docking simulation,” Jeon said. “Her innovative approach to the very well-known yet unsolved Tylenol toxicity issue could pave the way to a solution.”

Lee said she would like to study chemistry in college and hopes to use chemistry research to help address problems facing the global community.

“Fundamentally, I want to help others with my knowledge, so I would like to become a surgeon and researcher who uses concepts in chemistry to positively impact the world.”

— Written by Greg Pederson, College of Science