Four U-M Department of Chemistry faculty will be gaining new titles come September. The University of Michigan regents approved their promotions at the May meeting.  

Jennifer Bridwell-Rabb and Wenjing Wang will become associate professors with tenure. Alison R.H. Narayan will be promoted to professor. Also to be promoted to associate professor is Timothy Cernak, whose main appointment is in Medicinal Chemistry . He also has an appointment in Chemistry and has graduate students from Chemistry.

The following profiles were excerpted from the promotion materials presented to the Regents. You can read the documents in their entirety in the May 16, 2024 Minutes.

Jennifer Bridwell-Rabb

Professor Bridwell-Rabb has established a renowned program in chemical biology and metallobiochemistry. She is a creative, dedicated scholar who excels in teaching and service.

She regularly teaches Chem 351, biochemistry fundamentals, to more than 100 students per term.  She developed a series of thematic games based on the TV-show Jeopardy to reinforce basic biochemistry knowledge.

Professor Bridwell-Rabb is a recognized expert in the field of metallobiochemistry. She uses many biochemical techniques to work with sensitive proteins that are very difficult to recombinantly express, purify, and study. Specifically, she works on Rieske-type Oxygenases, enzymes that are found in all forms of life, and are involved in both the degradation and the biosynthesis of organic compounds. She has discovered novel mechanisms of how these enzymes regulate their reactivity. This fundamental discovery has led to new methods to reprogram, evolve, or customize the chemical reactions catalyzed by Rieske oxygenases.

Professor Bridwell-Rabb has been an excellent citizen—both to the department and to her scientific communities.

Reviewers say: “In terms of the scholarly impact, I would like to emphasize that Prof. Bridwell-Rabb’s papers demonstrate a level of thoughtfulness and insights that go well beyond the descriptive narrative that characterizes many papers today.”

"I would point out that this [the teaching statement] is one of the most thoughtful statements I have seen. She is clearly taking the time to think about the teaching and learning and incorporating active learning strategies into her classroom."

Wenjing Wang

Wenjing Wang is being  promoted to associate professor of chemistry, with tenure, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts also being promoted to research associate professor, Life Sciences Institute.

Professor Wang has established a renowned program in chemical biology and neuroscience. She is a creative, dedicated scholar who excels in teaching and service.

 Professor Wang is a dedicated teacher of undergraduate and graduate students. She has taught the large-enrollment course required for many STEM majors, Chem 210, every winter term since 2019. She notably uses real-life examples to illustrate the importance of organic chemistry concepts. At the graduate level, she team-taught the introductory chemical biology course ChemBio 501. Consistent with the Department of Chemistry’s increased attention to incorporating a holistic model of professional development into the graduate curriculum, Professor Wang innovated in the ChemBio 502 course by encouraging critical thinking through literature-based discussions and by cultivating scientific writing skills. She has also invested heavily in her educational responsibilities as a principal investigator.

Professor Wang is a recognized expert in the fields of chemical biology and neuroscience. Her lab develops optogenetic and chemogenetic technologies for neuromodulator detection and circuit manipulation in the brain. These tools enable monitoring and manipulating various brain functions with spatiotemporal control to advance neuroscience research and potential therapeutics.

She has won several prestigious awards, including the Rising Star in Measurement Science Award from ACS Measurement Science Au; the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award; the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award; and the NSF CAREER Award that together provide nearly $3.5 M in direct funding

Reviewers wrote: “[Prof.] Wang has developed a research program at the forefront of the field with great depth of scholarship and a tremendous commitment to broad applicability and robust methods, while simultaneously demonstrating herself to be a thoughtful and dedicated mentor and educator.”

“Overall, Prof. Wang’s work is characterized by ingenious protein designs, combining multiple elements carefully stitched together to create novel forms of molecular logic…. I would assess Prof. Wang’s protein engineering and tool development work as of the highest quality.”

Alison R.H. Narayan

Alison Narayan is being promoted to professor of chemistry, with tenure; she is also being promoted to research professor, Life Sciences Institute.

Professor Narayan has excelled in all aspects of her position. She has developed a highly visible research program that promises to provide new routes to chemical processes, taught core courses and mentored students with great success, and contributed to the university by leading programs and serving on significant committees at all levels.

Professor Narayan uses interactive and peer-to-peer approaches for teaching including adding a “think-pair-share” problem for each class. She also offers students chances to correct mistakes to relieve pressure and more opportunities to demonstrate mastery. Students from these classes are found to be well prepared for higher level chemistry and her student evaluations are excellent. Professor Narayan also mentors a large cadre of graduate students, post-doctoral trainees, and undergraduates in her research group.

Professor Narayan merges chemical biology and organic chemistry by studying and harnessing enzymes in the context of organic synthesis. Enzymes are green, natural catalysts with high selectivity; however, the range of possible reactions catalyzed by a given enzyme is often not known and often enzymes must be engineered to catalyze reactions of interest for synthesis. Professor Narayan has taken a multifaceted approach towards tackling these issues with the overarching goal of making biocatalysts part of the armamentarium of synthetic chemists as well as developing a deeper understanding of enzyme function. These studies have placed her in a leading position in this emerging field of chemistry. Realizing her vision to broadly use enzymes for synthesis will have broad impacts by enabling the generation of new medicines and reducing the environmental impact of industrial synthetic processes.

A reviewer commented: “It is the courageous scientists like Prof. Narayan who are bridging the long-standing gap between the biocatalysis and synthetic chemistry communities. With her deep understanding of enzymes and synthetic chemistry, good taste in choosing interesting problems, and tremendous work ethic, Prof. Narayan has emerged as a leader in this vibrant and growing field.”

Timothy Cernak

Also promoted will be Timothy Cernak. His main appointment is in Medicinal Chemistry, but he also has a courtesy appointment in Chemistry and has graduate students from Chemistry.

Professor Cernak is an exemplary scientist and extremely dedicated teacher, mentor, and citizen of his profession. He is a nationally and internationally recognized scientist at the forefront of investigating how high-throughput experimentation and artificial intelligence can be used to change how chemists design and study reactions and synthesis.

Among his interests are having state-of-the-art medicinal chemistry tactics used to prevent the extinction of endangered species and applied in the emerging area of conservation medicine.

Professor Cernak is also engaged in outreach efforts in northern Michigan, as well as outreach activities for younger students, including development and presentation of his Wellpaint™ teaching toy that engages elementary-aged kids in chemistry.