Hannah Kenagy and Melissa Ramirez join Department of Chemistry

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (04/22/2024) – The Department of Chemistry will welcome Dr. Hannah Kenagy and Dr. Melissa Ramirez to the faculty in January 2025. Both chemists will enter the department as Assistant Professors. 

Hannah S. Kenagy will join the department in January 2025 after completion of her postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she currently works as an NSF AGS Postdoctoral Fellow with Prof. Jesse Kroll and Prof. Colette Heald. Prior to her current position at MIT, Kenagy completed her PhD at the University of California Berkeley in 2021 with Ronald Cohen and her BS in Chemistry and the University of Chicago in 2016. 

At the University of Minnesota, the Kenagy research group will focus on atmospheric chemistry. Kenagy’s research explores how emissions into the atmosphere get physically and chemically transformed into gases and particles with impacts on air quality and climate. “We will use an integrated toolset for thinking about these questions, including lab experiments, field observations, and multi-scale modeling,” Kenagy says. “In particular, we’ll focus on questions regarding how atmospheric chemistry and composition are changing as we reduce our reliance on fossil fuel combustion and as temperatures continue to rise with climate change. Integrating measurements and models together will enable us to push forward our understanding of this changing chemistry.”

Kenagy is passionate about integrating environmental chemistry learning opportunities in her classrooms to make real-world connections for students. “Because so much of my research is relevant to air quality and climate – things that impact people’s daily lives, often inequitably – outreach is a really key component of my group’s work,” Kenagy says. She also engages in ongoing efforts to make science more accessible, and to ensure all students have the resources they need to thrive and develop a sense of belonging in science.

The UMN Department of Chemistry’s strong focus on environmental chemistry and the opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary research make the move to Minnesota particularly exciting for Kenagy. “I’m looking forward to joining a university with atmospheric scientists in a variety of departments across both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. I also plan to make some measurements of urban chemistry across the Twin Cities, a unique environment that is impacted by agricultural and biogenic emissions in addition to more typical urban emissions. This mix of emissions makes the Twin Cities an interesting place to study the air!”

When she’s not busy in the office and lab, Kenagy loves being outside, hiking and swimming. She also loves music – she plays piano and sings – and cooking. You can read more about Kenagy here.

Melissa Ramirez will also make her move to Minnesota in January of 2025. Currently, Ramirez is an NIH K99/R00 MOSAIC Scholar, NSF MPS-Ascend Fellow, and Caltech Presidential Postdoctoral Scholar in the laboratory of Prof. Brian Stoltz at the California Institute of Technology, where her research focuses on enantioselective quaternary center formation using experiments and computations. Before her postdoctoral position, Ramirez completed her PhD in Organic Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles with Prof. Ken Houk and Prof. Neil Garg in 2021 and her BA in Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania in 2016. 

The Ramirez laboratory at UMN will develop experimental and computational approaches to address challenges associated with efficiency in the synthesis of pharmaceutically relevant small molecules. “The mission of my research program will be to establish synthetic methods in the areas of main group catalysis, asymmetric organocatalysis, and transition metal photochemistry with the aid of computations,” Ramirez writes. “Students trained in my lab will develop strong skills in synthetic and computational organic chemistry with a focus on reaction development. This synergistic skillset in synthesis and computations will also give rise to a range of opportunities for collaboration with the broader scientific community.” Ramirez aims to bridge synthesis and catalysis research with computational chemistry at UMN.

Ramirez says an important goal for her as a professor will be to challenge students, support them, and make them feel connected to the classroom regardless of their background. “Throughout my academic career, some of the most effective teachers I have had are those who believed in my potential even when I experienced self-doubt or failure,” Ramirez says. She is also looking forward to collaborating with the Chemistry Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to explore ways to better connect students with resources to help remove barriers to their science education and career. “I am excited to help recruit a diverse student body by helping organize the CheMNext session and by continuing my close relationship with organizations such as the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering and Científico Latino, which I have served on the organizational board for during my postdoc,” Ramirez says.

When she’s not on campus, Ramirez enjoys staying active. She’s an avid runner, loves Peloton, and likes taking high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. You can learn more about Ramirez here.

The hiring of Kenagy and Ramirez follows the recent announcement of Dr. Jan-Niklas Boyn and Dr. Kade Head-Marsden joining the faculty in Fall 2024. These four incoming Gophers will bring the Department of Chemistry total of new faculty hires to nine over the past three years. We are excited for these outstanding chemists to join our community, and be part of the ongoing growth of the College of Science and Engineering on the UMN-TC campus.