Graduate Student Spotlight: Trevor Nykaza

Danielle Randall
April 14, 2017

A fairly new addition to the MIT Chemistry Department, Graduate Student Trevor Nykaza grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. He began his graduate studies at Pennsylvania State University, where he spent two years before transferring to MIT as a member of Professor Alexander Radosevich's lab in August of 2016. Trevor's research in the Radosevich group focuses on the development of catalytic organophosphorus-based methods operating through a PIII/PV=O redox cycle, specifically with respect to the synthesis of potentially useful heterocycles. His initial motivation for this work was the desire to have an organocatalytic alternative to what are commonly metal-based or stoichiometric synthetic approaches.  Trevor's original project focused on the identification and design of suitable phosphine oxide pre-catalysts, the optimization of heterocyclization, and an examination of the scope and limitations. With these goals met, he is currently working on expanding into other classes of heterocycles and looking for new avenues to apply what he has learned.

As a subject of April 2017's Graduate Student Spotlight, Trevor reveals the fantasy world he'd choose to live in for a month, what technology he'd take back in time to dazzle Colonial Bostonians, the person he'd like to be stuck in an elevator with, and much more!

1. What is your guilty pleasure?
Honestly, I have quite a few – but I am willing to disclose that I still enjoy watching Dragon Ball Z and have fond childhood memories associated with the show.

2. What news story in history have you found to be the most riveting?
I have always been interested in music history and particularly, the development of rock and roll and hard rock in the 1960s and 1970s. I know that this is not a single news story, but it is too difficult to pick just one from this eventful time.

3. Who, besides your parents, has had the greatest impact on your life?
My brother Matt, my sister Julia, my loving girlfriend Satbyol, many close friends, and my labmates have had an immeasurable impact on my life. My past advisors and mentors (Prof. W. Martin, Prof. E. Fischer, Prof. L. Klein) and my current advisor (Prof. A. Radosevich) have also had a pronounced impact on my life. Thank you!

4. What is your ultimate goal in life?
To be a better person than the day before, to live happily, and to adopt a kitten. 

5. Who is the most famous person that you’ve met?
I have not really met anyone famous, but I have been near a few celebrities on different occasions though. My favorite memory is probably when I was about 15 feet away from the legendary Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi (guitarist for Black Sabbath/Heaven & Hell). A friend and I were fortunate enough to be in the first row at one of their last concerts – my ears were ringing until the next day.

6. Who would be the best person you could be stuck in an elevator with?
I think if I were stuck in an elevator with my dad, we would make the most of the situation and have a few good laughs while we were waiting. 

7. What TV show would you like your life to be like?
A combination of Seinfeld and The Office.

8. Would you rather be completely invisible or be able to fly for one day only?
I would rather be able to fly for one day. I always wanted to be able to dunk like MJ.

9. What never fails to make you laugh?
Funny cat videos.

10. If you could only eat all three meals at one restaurant for a month, which would it be?
Portillo’s Hot Dogs, Chicago

11. Where is the most awe-inspiring place that you’ve been?
It’s a tie between Yellowstone National Park and the Devil’s Tower National Monument.

12. What piece of technology would you most like to time travel with and dazzle Colonial Bostonians?
The thermite reaction.

13. Which flavor of ice cream do you wish existed?
I was going to say Cinnamon Toast Crunch ice cream, but I quickly found recipes to make it. I guess I’m going to have to make some this summer.

14. If time froze for everyone in the world except for you for one day, what would you do?
Enjoy a nice day off.

15. If you could pick one fantasy world to live in for a month, which would it be?
Rock and roll fantasy camp. 

16. Do you have a secret talent?
I am a guitar enthusiast and have been playing for the last ten years. 

17. What are your top three favorite movies of all time?
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Matrix (1999), and Rio Bravo (1959).

18. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
I wish I'd known that my free time was going to become more limited as I got older. 

19. If you had to choose between living without Internet or living without heating or air conditioning, what would you choose?
I would live without heating or air conditioning – the internet is indispensable. 

20. If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
I like to think that I could make it as a musician, although it is more of a hobby and I have not considered it seriously.


Many thanks to Trevor for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!