5 questions with…graduate chemistry student, rising scientist Brittney Bunn

By: Shivani Parikh

Brittany Bunn CWRU lab
Brittney Bunn (right) gets hands-on in the lab.

Brittney Bunn’s passion for science began in a high school classroom in Barberton, Ohio—and now it’s taken her all the way across the country to a national conference in Ventura, Calif., where she recently presented her research.

The Gordon Research Seminar, a gathering of investigators from academia, industry and the government and students, provides a chance for junior scientists and graduate students to present their work. A fourth-year graduate student in the chemistry department, Bunn gave a presentation titled “Stereoselective Biosynthesis of Isonitriles in Group V Cyanobacteria.” This is her research as a member of the Vishwanathan Group, in which they study natural product biosynthesis—or, as she explained, how molecules are made in nature.

“It was so exciting to present to a group of scientists that are so involved in the field that I study every day,” Bunn said. “I received so much positive feedback on my talk.”

In addition to presenting her work, Bunn interacted with other graduate students in similar roles, as well as leaders in her field whose research she’s studied and admired.

“The conference is where the primary investigators share their recent research; it’s almost like meeting celebrities,” Bunn said. “I have been reading and studying publications from these people for years and finally got to meet them!”

Bunn’s interest in science was sparked in high school, after she succeeded in a particularly challenging biology class and realized she genuinely liked it.

After that, she said, “I got more into chemistry and biochemistry in college and just couldn’t get enough.”

Her love for science has only grown since.

As an undergraduate student at University of Mount Union, Bunn planned to become a doctor, but with time and a little self-discovery, she realized her passion was how research itself can help people.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry with a minor in biology, Bunn thought hard about her future.

“After my undergraduate years, I wanted to pursue something that allowed me to help people through science. I loved chemistry and thought it would be a great fit for me if I dedicated myself to work that helped others, like doctors and scientists,” said Bunn.

So she opted to devote her studies to research, and was drawn to Case Western Reserve for its location and its campus—a stark contrast to the small, liberal arts environment where she completed her undergraduate studies. She also appreciated the collaborative environment of the chemistry department and the university as a whole, as well as the groundbreaking research being done.

“Science is always changing and there is always something to learn,” she said. “I love learning new things and putting pieces together that didn’t fit before. It’s so exciting to discover something that no one else has ever discovered. Not many people can say that they do that.”

After graduating in 2015, Bunn looks forward to further exploring her research interests and passions, possibly in a post-doctoral program and, eventually, through teaching, outreach or work at a scientific journal. While she’s excited about what the future may hold, she knows there are myriad ways in which she can make significant contributions to the health community, without being a medical doctor.

“Just because you aren’t treating patients doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference in the health and medical community,” she said.

Want to know more about this young scientist? Learn more in this week’s five questions.

1. Facebook or Twitter?
I have to admit I’ve never tweeted. So, I’d have to say Facebook because I like to see what everyone is up to and share exciting things that are happening in my life—but I don’t need to know everyone else’s every thought.

2. What is your favorite building on campus and why?
I’d say Millis, because that is where I have my “genius moments” (haha) and that’s where the cool science happens. Also, I’m a graduate student, so I don’t see too many buildings outside of my home base.

3. What is your favorite vacation spot?
The beach, because I like to be able to just get away, relax and get a tan.

4. What is one of your hidden talents?
I always tell people that if chemistry failed for me, I would be a cosmetologist.

5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The location. I had never lived in a big city, so this was just a wonderful eye-opener of what the rest of the world is like. But at the same time, it’s not the biggest city, so it was a great stepping-stone for me.