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After initially training in fine art and working for about eight years in commissioned music production and illustration, I developed a keen interest in the environment, biodiversity, and combating climate change. I needed a career that served humanity and contributed to preserving the environment. I had my ‘eureka!’ moment when I read about natural products discovery in the book “The Future of Life” by Edward O. Wilson. I was simply astounded to learn that most small molecule drugs are based on compounds from nature. To me, medical applications of natural products were as close as humanity had come to truly practicing magic. I realized that I could improve lives through both science education and the quest for new medicine from nature. My research would highlight the value of preserving the environment and its biodiversity for its ability to provide medicine.
I went back to school at DePaul University to gain the prerequisites necesarry for graduate school and volunteered in the lab of Prof. Justin Maresh. There we synthesized small molecule biosynthetic precursors and fed them to plant cultures (Daffodil, Poppy) with the aim of generating "non-natural" natural product derivatives of medicinally important molecules like berberine and morphine. I later earned my PhD in 2016 with Prof. Brian Murphy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I discovered and developed small molecule natural products from bacteria in Lake Michigan as tuberculosis drug leads and led a citizen science campaign to explore the medicinal potential of freshwater sponges. Then, as an NIH NRSA postdoctoral fellow working with Profs. Neil Kelleher and Regan Thomson in the Department of Chemistry at Northwestern University, I helped develop new, big-data methods of natural product discovery involving cutting edge microbial genomics and metabolomics techniques. I am currently a Senior Scientist in the Host-Microbe Metabolomics Facility within the Duchossois Family Institute at the University of Chicago where I am exploring approaches to discover the small molecule mediators of health and disease in the human microbiome. In recent years, my artist's mind and passion for creating has been increasingly present in my scientific endeavors. Not only do I take pride in my designs, illustrations, and animations that aim to enhance scientific publications and enable them to reach new audiences, but my philosophy about science and the natural world has melded with my artistic perspective. The parallels between human ingenuity and the creativity of nature's problem solving increasingly astounds me the more I learn. And more specific to my field, I have begun to recognize small molecule natural products as a form of biochemical 'fine art'. Natural product chemical structures are the most diverse and unique of all biomolecules—and in most cases, they are more intricate and complex than small molecules invented by humans in synthetic chemistry labs. Maybe it's not so far-fetched that I discovered this field of science as my home. These ideas and practices are the foundation for my career goal of improving the communication of science to new audiences through visual media, improving human health, and bringing new appreciation of science and nature as an unparalleled creative force. My passion for science communication extends beyond the means of presenting science or a general appreciation to also strategizing how science is disseminated for the greatest potential good. My research is fundamentally motivated by a desire to provide evidence for the value of the natural world through applications of natural product small molecules as medicine. As such, my work has inherent connections to policy as it relates to the natural environment and human health—legislative decisions that affect (or ignore) stewardship of the natural world and climate change impact the availability of natural sources for new medicine and negatively affect the incidence of disease. In general, the recent trend of politically expedient false claims taking precedence over evidenced truths is cause for great concern and a significant call to action for all scientists to better communicate their research findings and advocate for evidence-based policy making. In 2017, with a strong desire to directly influence a change, I founded the Science Policy Outreach Taskforce (SPOT) at Northwestern University. Members of SPOT learn and put effective science advocacy into political action through events to educate voters, meetings to educate and collaborate with policymakers, educational seminars to learn about the interface of science and policy, and activities with external science policy entities.