At the recent Governor's STEM Scholars STEM in Academia Conference, David MacMillan, Ph.D., winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, gave a keynote address to the more than 100 STEM Scholars in attendance. Dr. MacMillan is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University. He told the inspiring story of how he was able to beat the odds to get where he is today and described the incredible developments that led to him winning the Nobel Prize.
Dr. MacMillan was born in a small town in Scotland in 1968. Like most people in his town, he wasn’t expected to attend a university as almost everybody went right to work out of high school. However, he was determined to go to college. He earned his degree from University of Glasgow where he initially studied physics, but soon realized he did not like it and eventually found his passion in chemistry. After graduation he came to the United States to attend the University of California at Irvine to get his Ph.D. He later did postdoctoral research at Harvard and eventually became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley before joining Princeton in 2006.
He won the Nobel Prize for asymmetric organocatalysis in 2021. Dr. MacMillan is known as one of the founders of organocatalysis and his advances in this field are key for the future of medicine and chemistry. His scientific work is a great inspiration and he is regarded as one of the greatest chemists of all-time.
Today, Professor MacMillan continues his work on organocatalysis at Princeton where he is still making breakthroughs to this day. His speech and story were inspiring for all the young STEM students in attendance who strive to one day make impactful discoveries in science and technology too. His extraordinary ascent from a challenging upbringing to a position of global prominence in the scientific community shows how one's background does not determine their ceiling for professional achievements. As an aspiring scientist myself, I am deeply moved by how he has shown that with determination and hard work, impactful contributions can be made regardless of one's starting point. Inspired by his example, I am more committed than ever to pursue a career in science where hopefully I, too, can inspire a younger generation in the same way he has inspired me.
Written by Bobby Bress
Bobby Bress is a junior at New Providence High School with a deep passion for applications related to the study of computer science algorithms for advanced networks. Bobby studied Complex Networks at the University of Pennsylvania’s Summer Engineering Academy and has conducted research projects related to the intersection of machine learning and social networks. As a member of his Computer Science Club team, he came in first place in The College of New Jersey’s 2023 Hack-Io-thon where his team built a weather sensor system to collect key weather data. Bobby provides insights into technology advancements through his blog technologyprogression.wordpress.com. He has also served as a guest blogger for Insprit.ai related to the education of artificial intelligence and with the Organization for Autism Research. Bobby has a deep interest in the intersection of Autism and technology and is a prior participant in the Drexel Autism Institute’s summer scholar program. In the future, he hopes to be a leader in the development of advanced computational algorithms to support social well-being.