KU News Release


May 16, 2011
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, 785-864-8855

Graduation stories: Young chemist Anthony Prosser finds his future in the lab

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LAWRENCE — Anthony Prosser spent the last year and a half of high school in rural Meriden living in a small apartment with his grandmother Linda.

“She was incredibly helpful,” Prosser said. “Money was a big issue, you know. But she cooked for me and gave me the parental supervision that people like to say they don’t need, but that that everyone needs.”

Anthony Prosser (photo by Chuck France/University Relations)

In part, Prosser came to the University of Kansas so he could stay close to his grandmother, whom he still talks to every day. But he also received an academic scholarship offer that allowed him to pursue his love for chemistry, a subject he excelled at in high school.

“I knew I wanted to study chemistry of some kind,” said Prosser. “So I started KU as a chemical engineer, then moved on to chemistry.”

As a sophomore, Prosser earned a McNair Scholarship for his academic excellence and economically challenged background. The scholarships are for first-generation college students.

“The McNair Scholarship thrust me into the lab that I’m in now,” Prosser said. “It definitively shaped my path here at KU. There are every-other-week meetings that really help keep you on track, and they’re really centered on getting people to go to graduate school and get research done.”

Prosser flourished in the lab of Mikhail Rubin, assistant professor of chemistry, winning grants for paid summer research and completing work that earned him first and second authorship on a series of papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Also, he’s had the opportunity to travel to a slew of chemistry conferences to present his papers.

“We create a method to make a broad range of chemicals that are useful for chemists making drugs,” said Prosser. “For instance, a chemist looks at a molecule they find in nature and they know it’s a drug. Well, they might run into a problem trying to synthesize it, in that they can’t make this donor-acceptor cyclopropane precursor. Well, we made the method to make that. Hopefully, some chemists that have run into issues will take our method and be able to make the drug more effectively, cheaply or safely.”

The techniques for creating donor-acceptor cyclopropanes that are the subject of Prosser’s research could be helpful in formulating anticancer drugs, as well as other applications.

“Two of our molecules are being tested as pesticides right now, and they’ve both made it through Phase II testing,” said Prosser. “So sometimes even the molecule itself ends up doing something useful.”

Prosser credits Rubin with mentoring him through the process of becoming a capable researcher.

“He doesn’t specify what I need to be doing on a daily basis, it’s more about that I need to be getting stuff done,” Prosser said. “And he absolutely understand that some things don’t work, because that just happens when you’re trying to develop these new tools. He gives you a little push, but understands when I say, ‘I’ve got a test this week.’ He says, ‘Don’t even talk to me until after the test.’ And I thought that was so funny. Otherwise, I’d have been pushing to get stuff done.”

Indeed, Prosser has thrived in the classroom as well as the lab. To earn income, he’s worked as a teaching assistant and at times found himself tutoring students older than himself. More impressively, the young chemist is graduating this month from KU after only three years as an undergraduate.

And despite his fast-paced success as a burgeoning researcher, Prosser keeps a healthy perspective on his accomplishments in the lab: “It was either flip burgers or do research, and research was obviously the better option.”

In the fall, Prosser will enter Emory University in Atlanta to pursue a doctorate in chemistry.


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