Jennifer Flynn stands next to her lab equipment.

After six years of service in the military, Jennifer Flynn ’10 realized she had a love for chemistry. Then she found her passion studying liquid chromatography – mass spectrometry (LC-MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) at UNCG.

If you didn’t study chemistry and can’t rattle off a quick and dirty definition of LC-MS, don’t fret. Most people can’t. But we can all appreciate its usefulness in identifying substances with antibiotic potential, and that’s where Jennifer’s undergraduate research came into play.

A first generation college student who graduated in May, Jennifer worked closely with Dr. Nadja Cech, whose expertise includes medicinal plant chemistry. Ultimately, Dr. Cech’s goal is to develop novel approaches for the use of plant medicines in the treatment and prevention of disease.

“I worked with her for a year to get a head start on my honor’s thesis,” says Jennifer. Her charge was to use the analytical technique known as LC-MS to compile a database of known antibiotics to aid in the identification of novel compounds.

An opportunity to help find new antibiotics

“I helped get a project up and going that will eventually screen various sources of natural products for new antibiotics, which is important as antibiotic resistance becomes more of a concern.”

And just what is NMR, other than another scientific passion of Jennifer’s? In simplest terms, it’s an analytical technique, one that uses a magnetic field to determine the structure of an unknown compound. Jennifer worked alongside Dr. Terry Nile, travelling to England for a six-week study abroad where she partnered with Dr. Craig Butts and students at the University of Bristol on NMR research that was recently accepted for publication in the journal Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry.

The value of experience

“The thought of grad school would be daunting if I didn’t have such great undergraduate research experiences. Plus, they helped get me the job I have now.”

Jennifer is a lab technician with Syngenta. “For one of my honors projects, I helped Syngenta run Boron NMR. Samples were brought to campus because Syngenta doesn’t have a probe that tunes to Boron.”

Next fall, she plans to go to graduate school, possibly in a PhD program at Iowa State. After that, she’ll likely teach or work in the chemical industry. “Either way, I want to make an impact on people’s lives.”

She said the same thing right after she graduated high school and decided to enter the military. “I surprised people, even myself, when I joined. But I knew I wanted to provide some sort of service, and my six years here and in Iraq allowed me to do that.”

A wild notion

Eventually, she found she had a mind for science. And now her résumé is peppered with awards such as the M. Russell Harter Award for Scientific Research, the ACS Inorganic Chemistry Award, the Schaffer Chemistry Award and the American Institute of Chemists Award.

“After the military, I got this wild notion to become a chemist. I thought, ‘I could do this.’ Coming from a non-science background, I really needed a strong foundation, and I got that at UNCG.”

 

Photography by David Wilson, University Relations