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Merck Scientists Launch Research Award to Support Rising Chemists of Color

Program provides career development and networking opportunities, fosters equity and inclusion

Merck Scientists Launch Research Award to Support Rising Chemists of Color

Program provides career development and networking opportunities, fosters equity and inclusion

Published 01-19-22

Submitted by Merck & Co., Inc.

We recognize that diversity is a catalyst for world-class science and innovation. We also work to support the next generation of scientists through a series of programs geared towards underrepresented students and post-docs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

The new Merck Research Award for Underrepresented Chemists of Color adds to our company’s efforts to promote diversity, inclusion and equity in all that we do.

David Thaisrivongs, a Merck Research Laboratories chemist who designed and launched the award with his team, said, “I was inspired to think about ways we could make a difference in supporting greater diversity and inclusion in the field of chemistry. We recognize the value in mentorship and our strong support network within our company, so we designed the award program to create a supportive, inclusive networking environment for rising chemists of color.”

Chemist working in a lab

Supporting underrepresented chemists of color

The Merck Research Award for Underrepresented Chemists of Color recognizes graduate students and post-doctoral fellows for their chemical science research across a range of focuses — such as computational, analytical, medicinal, biological and synthetic chemistry.

Participants are paired with scientific mentors at Merck who are able to provide guidance, feedback and connections relevant to their research. The researchers then present their work to peers and mentors at an award symposium, where a team of diverse Merck scientists choose the winners. In addition to participants’ research, judges also consider their potential to be scientific pioneers and innovators and how they may help fellow underrepresented individuals in the future.

“Seeing how willing people are to share their stories and be vulnerable among their peers has inspired me to embrace my own personal story and share my unique experiences with my colleagues,” said Dr. Jennifer Obligacion, associate principal scientist and mentor in the award program. “I’ve found that this sharing enriches relationships with my colleagues, and I think it makes us better chemists.”

Honoring the 2021 recipients

The inaugural recipients of the Merck Research Awards for Underrepresented Chemists of Color are:

  • Ali Abou Taka, University of California Merced: Improving ΔSCF Methods and Computational Studies of Metal Oxide Hydrolysis
  • Salvador Bernardino, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA): Rapid Assembly of Tunable Fluorospiroheterocyclic Scaffolding for Peptidyl Turns, Loops and Macrobicyclic Structures
  • Aisha Bismillah, Dartmouth: Controlling Crystallization and Chirality with “Shapeshifting” Molecules
  • Emilio Leal Cárdenas, University of Michigan: Cell-Permeable m7GMP-Derived Inhibitors for Targeting The eIF4E/m7GpppX Interaction: An Approach To Combat Aberrant Cap-Dependent Translation in Cancer
  • María T. Morales Colón, University of Michigan: Tetramethylammonium Fluoride Tertiary Amyl Alcohol as Practical Reagent for SNAr Fluorination
  • Natasha Cornejo, University of Arizona: Exploring the Intracellular Delivery and Reactivity of Benzene Diazonium Ions
  • Mery Vet George De la Rosa, University of Michigan: Identifying Candidate Mitochondrial Metabolites as Predictive Biomarkers of Drug Toxicity Risk
  • Tammi Van Neel, University of Washington: Localized Cell-surface Sampling using Dual-functionalized Beads
  • Makeda Tekle-Smith, UCLA/Princeton: Nucleophilic C(sp3)–H Fluorination Enabled by Photoredox Catalysis
  • Jennyfer Tena, University of California, Davis: Multi-Glycomic Profiling of Human Brain Tissues in Alzheimer’s Disease by Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry Methods
  • Raymond K. Twumasi, The Ohio State University: Regioselective C(sp3)-H Deuteration & Fluorination via Imidate Radicals
  • David Vargas, University of Rochester: Complex Polycyclic Scaffolds Generated via Biocatalytic Carbene Transfer

Creating more opportunities for people of color in science

Thaisrivongs hopes that this new yearly award program continues to complement our efforts to support diversity and inclusion.

“It’s exciting to see my colleagues across the company embrace this program and look into establishing similar mentorship opportunities in their departments,” he says. “I am also inspired by how visible this award has become — other companies have reached out to me to see how to start their own programs, and that’s just great for the whole community.”

To learn more about the program, contact

Learn more about the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in their Corporate Responsibility Report.

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Merck & Co., Inc.

Merck & Co., Inc.

At Merck, known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, we are unified around our purpose: We use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world. For more than 130 years, we have brought hope to humanity through the development of important medicines and vaccines. We aspire to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company in the world – and today, we are at the forefront of research to deliver innovative health solutions that advance the prevention and treatment of diseases in people and animals. We foster a diverse and inclusive global workforce and operate responsibly every day to enable a safe, sustainable and healthy future for all people and communities. For more information, visit and connect with us on TwitterFacebookInstagramYouTube and LinkedIn.

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