Ernest Awoonor-Williams - IUPAC

Ernest Awoonor-Williams, PhD Candidate from the Memorial University of Newfoundland and member of the Canadian Society for Chemistry. Photo credit: Christopher Rowley.

Continuing the CIC’s celebrations of IYPT2019 and IUPAC100, along with diversity in the chemical sciences, we are highlighting those outstanding members of the Canadian chemistry community who are featured in IUPAC’s Periodic Table of Younger Chemists. In this Q&A series, we get to know the people behind the achievements. This month it is Ernest Awoonor-Williams (Zn), a PhD Candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland and member of the Canadian Society for Chemistry, who is investigating the reactivity of cysteine amino acids to identify targets in proteins that could lead to better, more efficient drug design.

Why chemistry?

Chemistry is a fascinating subject area with endless fulfilling career opportunities. I enjoy chemistry because it provides key insights and answers to problems of everyday life, which can lead to exploring unsolved mysteries and uncharted territories.

What excites you most about your work?

Knowing that my research work can be beneficial to other scientists and researchers in — and beyond — my discipline. An exciting aspect of my work is that there is never a shortage of things to do and learn.

How has being in Canada helped shape your chemistry career?

It has provided great opportunities for collaboration and networking with other like-minded individuals, especially during conferences and symposia. I have also had the opportunity to present my research at numerous CIC conferences and learn about other areas of research.

Do your activities extend beyond the usual bounds of chemistry?

Outside the lab, I enjoy volunteering and staying active. I have coached youth soccer and have been involved with community development projects across the globe, with organizations such as Canada World Youth (Jeunesse Canada Monde) and Students Offering Support. I have also been involved with science outreach programs such as Science Rendezvous and March for Science.

Have you ever received advice that you’d like to pass on to other young chemists?

Be passionate about your work and take advantage of opportunities that allow you to disseminate your research. Read and write often, while keeping abreast of the relevant scientific literature in your discipline. Be ready to accept rejection for awards, publications, or grants, but never, ever give up.

In celebration of IYPT 2019, do you have a favourite memory or fact about the periodic table?

I recently learned that phosphorus was the first element to be chemically discovered since antiquity. It was accidentally isolated by the alchemist Hennig Brand from human urine, who was in search of the philosopher’s stone. Interesting fact: only two elements have been named after a living person; seaborgium (Sg) after Glenn T. Seaborg and oganesson (Og) after Yuri Oganessian.