Summer Research Snapshot: Graduate Student Kevin Garcia

Today is the second of our four-part series highlighting research being conducted during the summer in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kevin Garcia is a graduate student finishing his first year as a member in Professor Daniel Weix’s research group, one of the newest additions to the department. Kevin’s research focuses on developing unique catalysts for organic synthetic reactions.

Kevin Garcia
Kevin Garcia

Q: Tell me a bit about your research.

KG: The Weix group focuses on Nickel catalysis for cross electrophile coupling in organic synthesis. I specifically work on developing and optimizing Ni catalysts for the arylation of aliphatic aldehydes. I’m trying to do this process enantioselectively, which always adds another level of difficulty. There has been some previously published data with Ni and aryl aldehydes but I’m focusing on aliphatic aldehydes, which tend to be more problematic. We’re trying to take a different approach to produce chiral secondary alcohols efficiently.

Q: What was the experience like moving an entire lab from New York to Wisconsin?

KG: It was definitely clear that chemistry was going to have to stop for a while but I was excited for the move. Most of the summer has been setting up our new lab spaces. It was a good experience to be able to see how a lab is taken down and set up from scratch. And I think being able to participate in this process is an advantage. I especially found it fascinating to see how all the instruments operate. Overall, it felt like a huge group cleanup, which is nice every now and then. However, we did end up forgetting some things back in Rochester!

We recently started doing some chemistry now that we have received our chemicals. Getting all our chemicals to Madison was a huge ordeal. But we finally got all our chemicals so we did inventory and started organizing them in our new space in the Shain Research Tower. Along with synthesizing ligands for my research, I’ve also been very busy working with Tilak Chandra [the chemical safety officer from UW-Madison Environment, Health & Safety] on chemical hygiene because I’m one of the two safety officers for our lab.

Q: What has been your favorite part about exploring Madison this summer?

KG: That there’s so much stuff to do! I’m really enjoying it. I knew coming here that I was going to enjoy it regardless but I didn’t know how much Madison had to offer. I definitely love the food here. Whenever my lab mates and I go out to eat, we just walk down State Street and find something new to try.

Q: What activities do you enjoy outside of lab?

KG: I’ve enjoyed playing beach volleyball and basketball with some people in the department. I also go out to trivia every Wednesday night with some lab mates and friends in the department.

Q: How has your interaction been with students in the department?

KG: It’s been really great and easy! People are excited that we’re here and stop by to talk to us. Manar Alherech from the Stahl group brought us in cookies one day and then invited the group out to a picnic.

I’ve also been able to meet a lot of people at the GSFLC Social Hours. Everyone’s been very friendly.

Q: Do you feel like it’s a collaborative environment?

KG: One of the things that I’m most excited for, along with the whole group and Dan, is Supergroup that several labs participate in during the school year. It’s awesome that you can present your research to the department and get feedback from students, postdocs, and professors. I was afraid that coming to such a big school, you would have a more competitive aspect with little collaboration. But here you have the best of both worlds. The department is big so you have the instrumentation you need and you can collaborate with a bunch of great professors and students here. That’s one of the things I really like. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m happy here.

—Nicole Thomas