Graduate Student Spotlight: Anthony Rojas

Categories: Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Anthony Rojas describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Born in Miami, Florida, Anthony Rojas spent seven years in “Hotlanta”, Georgia before moving to Boston 3.5 years ago to begin his graduate studies at MIT. A member of Professor Stephen L. Buchwald and Professor Bradley L. Pentelute‘s groups, Anthony’s research is focused on bioconjugation, or the chemoselective modification of complex biomolecules. Bioconjugation is a cornerstone of chemical biology that enables researchers to probe their structure, function, and develop new targeted therapeutics. Recently, the Buchwald and Pentelute labs published reports utilizing palladium oxidative addition complexes to rapidly and chemoselectively modify cysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid. In my research, I have improved upon this method using ligand modification, showed that this chemistry can be utilized for developing macrocyclic peptides enabling the study of their medicinal properties, as well as developed unique palladium oxidative addition complexes of peptides and proteins.

As the subject of December 2017’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Anthony shares reveals the fashion trend that makes him cringe, the two films he’d like to combine into one, the question he’d ask a time traveler visiting from the future, and more!

1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
I worked for Steve the summer before officially beginning graduate school. That summer I was working on another project when I saw Katya and Spok (former grad student and PostDoc) present their research on bioconjugation in collaboration with the Pentelute group. I instantly became enamored the the breadth and depth of knowledge necessary to successfully navigate the interface of organometallic chemistry and chemical biology. I wanted an opportunity to explore a new field in which I had no background.

2. If your five-year-old self suddenly found themselves inhabiting your current body, what would your five-year-old self do first?
Probably shave or pick up something heavy. I can’t imagine 5-year-old me feeling the beard.

3. What fictional character is amazing in their book / show / movie, but would be insufferable if you had to deal with them in mundane everyday situations?
Rory Gilmore. She’s so intelligent and hilarious and wonderful but doesn’t know how to put it to good use and her decisions with men are atrocious. I feel like I’d always be yelling at her, “YOU CAN BE BETTER!!!”

4. What animal would be the most terrifying if it could speak?
Livestock. I would imagine the world would largely switch to a vegetarian diet.

5. What fashion trend makes you cringe or laugh every time you see it?
Women dressed in a puffy vest, cream shirt, dark leggings and boots. I call it the Han Solo or The Millennial Falcon.

6. If you lived in a virtual reality world of your own creation, what would it look like?
Pretty much just the Harry Potter universe with the addition that everyone enjoyed dancing as much as me.

7. If you could airdrop anything you want, worth two million dollars or less, anywhere you want, what would you airdrop and where would you airdrop it?
2 million dollars worth of food to starving people in Africa. I feel like this is the only answer.

8. What’s your favorite holiday movie?
Die Hard is the best Christmas movie. But I’d also like to throw in Love Actually, Elf, and Home Alone. It’s not Christmas without watching those.

9. What seemingly innocent question makes you think “It’s a trap!”?
“Have you heard of Plexus/Amway/Scentsy/Shaklee/insert MLM scheme?”

10. What elements of pop culture will be forever tied in your mind to your childhood?
Michael Jackson, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Budweiser “Wassap” commercials, Pogs, Tamagotchis, and Hammer Pants

11. If cartoon physics suddenly replaced real physics, what are some things you would want to try?
I would love to get squished by something then walk around like an accordion.

12. What questions would you like to ask a time traveler from 200 years in the future?
You could have gone back and killed Hitler, stopped 9/11, saved MLK Jr, etc etc etc… I assume you’re here for Trump?

13. What’s the best thing about the place you grew up?
The diversity. A racist or homophobe would have had a tough time in Miami. I miss having every culinary dish at my finger tips and the music, my god the music!

14. What would be the worst food to be liquefied and drunk through a straw?
Cilantro. It’s already the worst. I can’t imagine the liquid form being better.

15. What two films would you like to combine into one?
The Empire Strikes Back to the Future

16. What are some of your Pavlovian responses?
Every time I see my school loans, I cry.

17. What would be the hat to end all hats? What could you wear on your head that would make people stop what they are doing and stare in awe and amazement?
A wine helmet. You know the ones for aluminum cans with a long tube/straw that you can drink them out of? Replace the cans with red wine bottles. Need I say more?

18. If animals could talk, which would be the rudest, and why?
Cats. Cats are already huge assholes so I can only imagine their words would mimic their actions.

19. If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning medal for?
Listening to music. I’d have more Golds than Usain or Phelps!

20. Who’s your go to band or artist when you can’t decide on something to listen to?
Definitely Boyz II Men or Michael Jackson. If the love doesn’t feel like 90s R&B, I don’t want it!

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