Dr. John Lukesh

Where are you from originally/background? 

I grew up in Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. I did my Undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. For graduate school I did not move too far, I simply matriculated at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where I earned my Ph.D. in chemistry. I then did my postdoctoral training out in San Diego, California at The Scripps Research Institute. My background and training in terms of Chemistry is more in the areas of Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and the work that we are currently doing in my laboratory certainly reflects that. 

How did you find your way to Winston-Salem/Wake Forest? 

When I was applying for Faculty positions, the add for Wake Forest really stood out to me. They were looking for someone specifically to help develop this new Medicinal Chemistry program—special concentration for undergraduate students that are majoring in chemistry. I thought that my research and teaching interests also fit really well with what they were looking for! Also, what attracted me to Wake Forest is the fact that we have a Graduate program here (in chemistry). I knew that I would be able to have my own lab with graduate and undergraduate students working for me, but the size of my group would be smaller and more manageable. I felt this would be a nice way for me to pursue my research interests while also having the opportunity to be more hands on in my approach to teaching and mentoring both graduate and undergraduate students. If you have a lab of only 3–5 graduate students it is much easier to manage what each of your students are working on and offer assistance when needed.

What positions do you currently fulfill at Wake?

In terms of teaching, I teach Organic Chemistry, both first and second semester, and both lectures and labs. I am also involved in developing the new undergraduate Medicinal Chemistry program here at Wake. Last year I also taught and developed the lab that is associated with the Med Chem lecture. Those are the three main lectures and labs that I teach here at Wake. This semester, it is also my first time serving as a lower division advisor! 

What is your current research centered on and how/where does this come into play outside of the Lab? 

We are interested in a field of science called Chemical Biology. As the name implies, it is at the interface of both Chemistry and Biology. More specifically, I would say that my group is interested in Redox Chemistry and Sulfur Selenium chemistry, and in particular, our lab has become very interested in studying Hydrogen Sulfide. For a very long time Hydrogen Sulfide was merely thought of as being a highly toxic, foul smelling gas, and an industrial environmental pollutant. However, more recently it has also been recognized as a really important signaling molecule that is expressed within mammalian systems. To this end, we are trying to use our knowledge of organic chemistry to synthesize new chemical tools that can be used to further probe its biological significance. For example, our group has recently developed a new series of reaction-based fluorescent probes that can be used to selectively trap and image Hydrogen Sulfide in living systems and in real-time. We are also interested in developing another series of small organic molecules that are designed to slowly release Hydrogen Sulfide over time, mimicking its endogenous production. These compounds would not only serve as useful tools for helping to probe the physiological roles of H2S within living systems, but they also have potential as therapeutics for various diseases.

What has been your favorite thing to teach/study/practice at Wake? 

I really enjoy teaching both Organic and Medicinal Chemistry. However, since I had never taken a Medicinal Chemistry course before, in some ways, developing a new Medicinal Chemistry lecture and lab was a bit challenging. Luckily, I work with several outstanding colleagues, both Dr. Bierbach and Dr. King, who are also involved in developing this new degree program at Wake Forest, and they have both been extremely helpful.  

Favorite thing about Wake Downtown/Winston-Salem?

In terms of Winston-Salem it is similar in size to Madison, Wisconsin. I really like this size of a city. I am not really a big city person, but I also do not want to live in small, rural area. In my opinion, Winston-Salem is the perfect size, where there is a lot to do, good restaurants, but it is not too crowded.  

Is there anything else that you would like people to know about your work or about what you do?

We are always interested in recruiting undergraduate students who are interested in research. With our areas of interest being at the interface of both Chemistry and Biology, this type of research may be particularly attractive to students who are on the Pre-Med/Pre-Professional School track. We currently have 3 undergraduate students in my lab, and I think I would like to keep that steady-state number. I have two students right now who are seniors so they will be graduating soon, and we will definitely be looking to recruit one or two more students in the very near future!