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Lee Joon Kim ’17 (chemistry), a Spotlight Recognition Award recipient, is a postdoctoral fellow applying x-ray methods to characterize biological systems, such as vaccines and proteins.

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Lee Joon “LJ” Kim ’17 graduated from Harvey Mudd College with a joint major in chemistry and biology. During college, she performed research in organic synthesis under Professor David A. Vosburg, where she synthesized natural products— or chemical substances produced in nature—that have medicinal properties and learned of her passion for scientific research relevant to human health and pharmaceuticals. This passion was further cultivated during summer research and internships at University of California, San Francisco and Genentech.

In the fall 2017, she started her PhD program at University of California, Los Angeles in the lab of Professor Hosea M. Nelson. During graduate school, she pivoted her research focus from synthesis to characterization of natural products, using an electron diffraction technique that was quickly gaining a lot of interest for its ability to solve 3D structures of chemicals without the need to grow large crystals, which can be an arduous process of trial-and-error. Kim applied electron crystallography to characterize natural products that are difficult to unambiguously determine structures of due to their miniscule amounts. Notable examples include fischerin, a fungal natural product with only a predicted structure based on computational methods, and the lomaiviticins, a class of bacterial natural products whose core structure was corrected using electron diffraction. As the second student to learn electron diffraction in the lab, Kim also trained other students and helped create a course with Prof. Nelson.

While receiving samples from collaborators and solving their structures was exciting, Kim realized that she wanted to be involved in projects at a much earlier stage and expand her skill set, working with different samples relevant to human health and learning new techniques. After graduating with a PhD in organic chemistry in 2022, Kim now works at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, under Dr. Greg Hura and Dr. Michal Hammel. There, she is a postdoctoral fellow applying x-ray methods, mainly small-angle x-ray scattering, to characterize biological systems, such as vaccines and proteins, while collaborating with pharmaceutical companies. She hopes to ultimately move to industry where she can be more directly involved with developing pharmaceuticals.

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