Chemistry and Biochemistry

Sam Tartakoff

Posted: Apr 13, 2011

IRVINE – BYU alumnus Samuel Tartakoff, now a graduate student in his second year at the University of California, Irvine, just learned he will be awarded a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program to fund the next three years of his program. Tartakoff graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree Chemistry in 2009.

While at BYU, Tartakoff worked in Dr. Steve Castle’s lab from May 2007 to June 2009, partnering with graduate student Fang Li “on the total synthesis of acutumine, a naturally occurring compound that has potential as an antiamnesic agent (i.e., memory aid),” Dr. Castle said in an e-mail. “Fang and Sam accomplished the first laboratory synthesis in the world of this compound, beating research groups at universities such as Harvard, Princeton, UC San Diego, and the University of Tokyo who were all trying to be the first to synthesize acutumine. In fact, we are still the only research group in the world that has synthesized acutumine.”
Tartakoff was awarded multiple Undergraduate Research Awards during that time and co-authored two papers with Li as a result of his work. One of those papers, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, was the most-accessed paper in the journal April – June 2009 “and was featured on popular organic chemistry blogs such as and,” Dr. Castle said.
“I wanted to thank you [Dr. Castle] again for the letter of recommendation, and also for the training and experience that made me a competitive applicant,” Tartakoff said in an e-mail to Dr. Castle notifying him of the fellowship.
Dr. Castle said he’s not surprised at Tartakoff’s success.
“Sam was a hard-working undergraduate who did not get discouraged when things didn't go well in the lab,” Dr. Castle said. “He kept working at his project, and he was able to get some significant results during the end of his time in the group. He had a great attitude in addition to his excellent work ethic. I am not surprised that he has been successful in his graduate program at UC Irvine, and he is a very deserving recipient of the NSF GRFP.”
By Jessica Henrie