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Shannon Rivera: 6th grade to scientist

Shannon Rivera: 6th grade to scientist

Sitting in her 6th grade science classroom, as a gallon of milk sat outside warming under the hot Georgia sun, Shannon learned two things. First, she learned about the effects of high temperatures on the properties and states of liquids. And second, she learned that she really, really loved chemistry. She recalls how the hands-on teaching style in her middle school science classroom sparked her enthusiasm for the subject, an enthusiasm which only grew stronger through high school, where she had the chance to serve as a chemistry teacher’s assistant.

Through these experiences, Shannon gained an understanding of how chemistry can shape the world. “Instead of being a giant jumbled puzzle, you could actually figure out the small pieces, start putting it together, and start getting a better picture of what’s really going on,” says Shannon. “Chemistry was definitely challenging, but I loved how these small little pieces would come together and things would click.”

“If we can understand this one part of this very dangerous bug, then maybe we can create a new treatment method.”

Shannon Rivera

Motivated by her passion for chemistry and encouragement from her teachers, Shannon went on to earn her BS in chemistry from the University of Georgia, where she performed undergraduate research under the guidance of Dr. Ron Orlando. In Dr. Orlando’s lab, Shannon worked on creating a database of N-glycans for different species and designing a method for quantifying different IgG products. During this time, Shannon also had the opportunity to participate in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates where she spent 10 weeks in the lab of Dr. Julio Alvarez studying the use of glutathione as a source of green energy for new batteries.

In the fall of 2014, Shannon began her graduate studies in chemistry here at Emory. She joined the Weinert group, studying how the globin-coupled sensor protein family senses oxygen and transmits the binding signal into downstream events. “I work primarily with proteins from infectious bacteria. The idea behind my research is that if we can understand this one part of this very dangerous bug, then maybe we can create a new treatment method,” says Shannon. “I love working with the proteins I do because they are all heme proteins, so they are all red!”

“Shannon’s fearlessness when it comes to trying new techniques has yielded results that have opened new insights into sensor globins and changed the way we think about how organisms sense and respond to oxygen.”

Dr. Emily Weinert

Since joining the lab, Shannon has contributed to five publications, one as the primary author and two as co-first author. Her most recent publication is a book chapter in Advances in Microbial Physiology currently in press. “Shannon’s talent for research science, combined with her incredible drive, make it a true pleasure to work with her,” says Dr. Weinert. “Shannon’s fearlessness when it comes to trying new techniques has yielded results that have opened new insights into sensor globins and changed the way we think about how organisms sense and respond to oxygen.”

In addition to her scientific achievements, Shannon has also received several honors and awards during her time at Emory. She was awarded the Emory Graduate Diversity Fellowship for demonstrating outstanding academic achievement, the Outstanding Analytical Teacher’s Assistant Award for being the highest rated teacher’s assistant of the year, and the Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority Fellowship to attend the Gordon Research Conference.

Shannon is a member of the Pi Alpha Chemical Society (PACS), chemistry’s graduate student social and service organization. With PACS, she has had the chance to participate in outreach events and develop valuable relationships with her peers and coworkers. In addition, Shannon serves as communications chair and member of the Association for Women in Science at Emory (AWIS). With AWIS, she has participated in science demonstrations for young students at local schools and helped run a booth at the Atlanta Science Festival celebrating famous women scientists. Shannon is also on the board for the Chemistry Graduate School Prep Club, an organization designed to help prepare chemistry undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds for future graduate studies. The prep club works primarily with students at institutions that aren’t currently associated with graduate programs to advise them on furthering their education by providing resources on research opportunities, applications, interviews, preparing for the GRE, and more.

After graduation, Shannon plans to go into industry research, where she is looking forward to leading her own projects.

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