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WKU Honors College graduate publishes research article in Science

Johnathan Brantley, a 2010 graduate of the Honors College at WKU, recently published an article in Science, a leading journal for scientific research. In the article, “Unclicking the Link: Mechanically Facilitated 1,3-Dipolar Cycloreversions,” Brantley, the first author of the essay, and the research team explain that the application of mechanical force can cleanly separate a widely used chemical coupling that was previously regarded as unbreakable.

Johnathan Brantley (right), who was honored as WKU's Ogden Foundation Scholar in 2010, had an article published in Science. He is a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin.

Brantley, originally from Salem in Livingston County, Ky., is in his second year of Ph.D. studies in chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, ranked No. 12 in the field by U.S. News and World Report. He said he became fascinated by polymer mechanochemistry, a particular chemical process, and wanted to experience it for himself.

“I was sitting in my office one day thinking about potential projects, and I thought it would be interesting to try,” he said about the ultimate research findings. “I went to my advisor’s office and pitched the idea to him. He thought it was a great idea, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

During his time as a scholar in the Honors College at WKU, Brantley participated in numerous research efforts in the lab of his mentor, chemistry professor Lester Pesterfield. The culmination of his research with Dr. Pesterfield was his Capstone Experience/Thesis project (CE/T), “Incorporation of Europium(III) Coordination Compound Into Silica Microspheres,” which earned a Pass with Distinction: the highest honors that a CE/T can receive at WKU.

“The phrase ‘gifted and talented’ truly describes Johnathan Brantley.  Johnathan has a special gift to not only understand the chemistry behind a complex reaction but to appreciate the subtleties involved in the mechanism,” Dr. Pesterfield said. “In the laboratory, he is constantly asking the question, ‘What if we try this?’ This allows him to explore the paths others have missed or ignored.  I am confident that Johnathan’s current contribution to our understanding of chemical reactivity is only the first of many.  I look forward to reading his next Science publication.”

Through financial support from the Honors College, the Office of Scholar Development, and Barbara Terry-Porter through the College Heights Foundation, Brantley received an opportunity to spend a summer researching organic chemistry at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom as part of his undergraduate career at WKU.

“During my time at Oxford, I encountered new chemistries that both excited and intrigued me. I collaborated with scientists from across the globe, and I had the unique opportunity to taste the life of a graduate student first hand,” he said. “That research experience solidified my desire to obtain a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and pursue my own research interests.”

Brantley, who previously received an Honorable Mention in the 2009 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Competition, is no stranger to national recognition for his academic work. He worked closely with the Office of Scholar Development while at WKU to refine various scholarship and graduate school applications before submission. He was selected by a panel of university faculty and staff as the Ogden Foundation Scholar at the 2010 commencement ceremony, WKU’s highest academic award, and received a full scholarship for his Ph.D. studies.

“The Honors College certainly exerted a positive influence upon me during my formative academic years,” he said.

Dr. Blaine Ferrell, Dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering at WKU, was very impressed by the young scholar’s achievement.

“It is a great accomplishment to have any publication so early in his graduate program, but to be the first author in a high impact journal such as Science is truly an amazing accomplishment.”

  • About Science: Founded in 1880, Science is a world-renowned leader for scientific news, commentary, and cutting-edge research. Publishing less than 8 percent of submissions, the journal uses strict standards of peer review and editorial quality to comb through the more than 12,000 annual submissions.
  • About the Honors College at WKU: WKU is home to the only Honors College in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Created in 2007, the Honors College at WKU provides an intimate, highly selective learning environment where college-age gifted and high-achieving students can develop the skills to prepare them for success in the nation’s top academic and career opportunities. For more information, contact the Honors College at (270) 745-2081. Contact: Eileen Ryan – eileen.ryan@wku.edu
  • About the Office of Scholar Development: OSD is committed to helping students on all WKU campuses and in all majors and degree programs develop the vision, experience and skills to be independent, engaged scholars. OSD welcomes the opportunity to work with students interested in opportunities to conduct research abroad. For information, contact the Office of Scholar Development at (270) 745-5043. Contact: Audra Jennings – audra.jennings@wku.edu
  • About the College Heights Foundation: From the time it was chartered in 1923, the College Heights Foundation has had as its primary mission the administration of funds entrusted to its care by supportive alumni, corporations, organizations, and other friends for the purpose of helping deserving students get an education. Contact: Alex Downing – alexander.downing@wku.edu

Contact: Honors College, (270) 745-2081.

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