Master of Chemical Sciences, University of Pennsylvania ’19
Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University '17
When Brian Roberts was first learning chemistry, he had specific ideas about what his future would look like. “I envisioned myself in a white lab coat, making compounds with chemicals under a fume hood,” he laughs. “That basically boils down to organic chemistry.” But since partnering with the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to curing hepatitis B, Brian’s capstone research has taken him in a decidedly biochemical direction as he conducts high-throughput screenings of naturally occurring substances such as leaves, plants and twigs against the hepatitis B virus.
“The Master of Chemical Sciences program opened me up to different careers in chemistry and connections with companies who come down and talk with our class,” says Brian. “I like synthetic work, but it’s always good to broaden your horizons.” After learning about the Blumberg Institute’s Natural Products Discovery Institute, Brian scheduled a tour of their facilities. “I am a big believer in finding cures in nature,” Brian explains, “because there are a lot of complex molecules out there, already made and perfected, which are much harder to synthesize step by step in a lab.”
Working with an off-campus research partner such as Blumberg also gave Brian experience collaborating with colleagues across professional fields. Working alongside the lab’s microbiologists and biochemists, Brian says that he has become more aware of similarities among the disciplines. “Even if they deal with cells rather than chemicals,” he says, “there is a scientific process that we both follow.”
The process of isolating effective cures can take years, Brian says, but he sees himself continuing to work in medical and pharmaceutical chemistry. “There are ups and downs every day, but there are moments of clarity when you know you can move on to the next step, and that is so rewarding.” With his industry experience, he can see himself stepping out of the white lab coat into a more administrative or project management role.
“I enjoy my work right now,” he adds, “but the future is open, and very bright.”