Organic Chemistry is one of the most notoriously difficult classes at Yale. Pre-med hopefuls and chemistry whizzes alike spend long nights learning reaction mechanisms and drawing energy-level diagrams. But last year, one Yale teaching fellow (TF) went above and beyond by making Organic Chemistry a much more manageable, even enjoyable experience. Tyler Myers, a Chemistry Ph.D. candidate in the Miller Lab, is making an impact on his students through his palpable passion for chemistry.
Myers discovered his love for the subject in high school, spending three years learning chemistry with a phenomenal teacher named Ms. Bell. His interest brought him to the University of Wyoming, where he was a chemistry major. After one of his general chemistry exams, his professor, David Anderson, passed him a note which read: Big-T, you should talk to me about research! “Research was completely foreign to me—but it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Myers said. In Anderson’s lab, Myers synthesized complexes to help construct hydrogen-based fuel cells. After taking Organic Chemistry with Robert Corcoran and loving it, Myers switched to Michael Taylor’s lab, where he worked on selective modifications of the amino acid residue tryptophan in peptides and proteins.
The next stop for Myers was Yale—as a graduate student in Scott Miller’s lab. He remembers sitting in the airport before flying to New Haven for an admitted students visit when he saw that the Miller Lab had recently published a paper on the selective modification of Geldanamycin, a biologically active natural product. “Late-stage diversification of natural products was fascinating to me,” Myers said. While at Yale, he attended a meeting with Miller and heard more about his research. “All I remember was that my chest got really fuzzy,” Myers said, “I knew that this was the place for me.”
Now, Myers researches asymmetric catalysis—working to preferentially synthesize one enantiomer of a chemical compound over the other. Enantiomers are chemical structures that are non-superimposable mirror images of each other, and it can be challenging to selectively synthesize one enantiomer of a compound. “The most common example we use is our hands,” Myers said, “Just how you can write better with one hand, drugs experience a very similar phenomenon with biological activity, where one enantiomer of a drug is often more biologically active than the other.” Myers, now a third-year Ph.D. candidate, recently received the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for his potential to contribute to the field of chemistry and broaden access to science and research.
Myers is equally excellent in his work as a teaching fellow. As students in First-Year Organic Chemistry, CHEM 174, last fall will tell you, Myers was a saving grace. He has loved teaching since he was an undergraduate, working as a tutor, a teaching assistant, and even traveling across Wyoming to deliver engaging scientific demonstrations to students to encourage them to pursue a STEM education.
“I thought being a teaching fellow would be great practice since I want to go into academia, and it was another opportunity to interact with students. It was really fun. I met some phenomenal students that are really passionate,” Myers said. His work as a TF won him a Yale Prize Teaching Fellowship—one of the highest honors a graduate student at Yale can receive. He was nominated for the award by the many appreciative students in CHEM 174. “Tyler was a great TF and also such a great mentor. He encouraged me to pursue chemistry research and was a friendly face this summer when I was in a lab near his,” said Lizbeth Lozano, one of Myers’s past students.
“I got to read the reviews that students wrote,” Myers said, “I remember leaving work just ecstatic.” Knowing his students truly enjoyed his work as a teaching fellow was the most rewarding thing for Myers.
After graduating, Myers hopes to become a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution. His goal is to dismantle the reputation of organic chemistry as an intimidating, inaccessible science and help others appreciate the beauty and potential it holds. “I am fortunate to have so many great opportunities and supportive people in my life,” Myers said, “I think teaching at a primarily undergraduate institution would be an excellent opportunity to give back to the community.”