Alex Thompson ’13 has an impressive resume, particularly for someone who has only just completed his undergraduate degree. He’s worked on multiple research projects in chemistry and biology, spent a summer working at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, interned at biotechnology company Genentech in San Francisco, co-authored a paper in The Journal of Organic Chemistry, and co-authored a chapter in the recently released book Hetereocyclic Chemistry in Drug Discovery. This fall he’ll be adding to his impressive list of accomplishments and beginning a Ph.D. program in chemistry at Yale University.
Thompson will begin at Yale by taking six classes, and he says he is looking forward to focusing on chemistry. He’s hoping to finish the taught portion of his degree in his first year so that he can move on to research. In this Ph.D. research, Thompson aspires to work on synthesizing molecules that have biological properties, working towards the development of new drugs. He then plans to go into medicinal chemistry and eventually enter the pharmaceutical industry.
Thompson will build off of his experience at Genentech, where he completed an internship in the Small Molecule Drug Discovery Department. There, he worked on a project similar to what he wants to do with his Ph.D., designing molecules that affect enzyme functions, which are important to disease pathways. Thompson explained that “a lot of diseases are caused by malfunctioning enzymes.” He and his research partners at Genentech are working to “design a better key to change the way substrates join with enzymes, creating a different pathway.”
As a result of this research, he and Malcolm Huestis, his supervisor there, co-authored a paper titled “ The Cyanide Anion as a Leaving Group in Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution: Synthesis of Quaternary Centers at Azine Heterocycles.” Upon completing his Ph.D., Thompson hopes to continue with similar work, perhaps even returning to Genentech.
Thompson’s research experience at Hamilton was also influential in shaping his outlook on chemistry and medicine. After his freshman year, he worked with Assistant Professor of Biology Michael McCormick on a microbiology project, which gave him a taste of research experience in biology. Thompson stated, “I still have a really big interest in biology. It’s one of the reasons I want to work in chemistry but apply it to biological problems, specifically medicine.”
By his sophomore year, he had made a shift to working more on chemistry. In his sophomore spring, he did an independent research project with Silas D. Childs Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Robin Kinnel, working to synthesize a natural product discovered by Kinnel. Thompson remarked that this project “taught me how to do chemistry research.”
These research projects, which are only the highlights of what Thompson has accomplished at Hamilton, formed the foundations of his success at Genentech and in continuing on to a Ph.D. at Yale. Thompson asserted, “The research that I did with professors at Hamilton is what set me apart.” He credits professors such as McCormick, Kinnel, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicole Snyder for helping him gain experience and knowledge in biology and chemistry research. If Thompson continues to build on these foundations to the same extent that he has at Hamilton, it’s clear that he will have a distinguished career in chemistry.