SUU to Everywhere

Sean Natoli ('12)

Sean Natoli ('12)
SUU to Postdoctoral Fellow

Originally published on October 31, 2019.

Not many people can say that they are a professional scientist. As a postdoctoral fellow at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley, Southern Utah University graduate Sean Natoli cannot only say that, he is helping to make scientific breakthroughs to better the future of pharmaceuticals. 

Additionally, his extensive research has earned him the CAS Future Leaders Award, which recognizes early-career scientists and grants them essential scientific, business and leadership training and a trip to the American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition. The award received hundreds of applicants from 16 different countries and a wide array of scientific disciplines. 

Before he was creating novel enzymes that can construct bonds in complex molecules for pharmaceutical applications, Sean was earning his doctor of philosophy focused on transition metal chemistry from Purdue University. Sean has achieved high levels of success both academically and professionally, but he contributes his success to the things he learned about himself while an undergraduate student at SUU. 

When deciding on which college to attend, it was clear to Sean he should choose SUU. He was initially impressed with the history of the education and training that the physical science department provided to ensure the success of its students. The fact that he could access multiple national parks and attend a quality school at a friendly price made it a perfect fit. 

Sean began school at SUU in 2008 and one year later enrolled in Dr. Ty Redd’s nationally recognized and rigorous, year-long organic chemistry class. This was the beginning of a mentorship that developed into a wonderful friendship and became the turning point in Sean’s life academically. 

“Organic chemistry was a springboard for me to explore and understand so many other areas in science,” said Sean. “Understanding those concepts allowed me to rationalize work written about in scientific journals, expedited my learning of new concepts, and gave me the experimental tools and acumen to tackle problems in chemistry.”

It didn’t take long for Dr. Redd to take notice of Sean and his desire to become immersed in the field of chemistry. 

“Sean has the drive, intellectual independence, and stamina required of a quality graduate student,” said Dr. Redd. “He is one of the most energetic science students I have ever met! He loves being in the laboratory.” 

Sean became heavily involved with research projects while earning his undergraduate degree. Dr. Redd relied on Sean’s intellectual independence and creativity to come up with and execute those projects. His research experience at SUU centered on the synthesis and photophysical properties of fluorescent heterocyclic molecules, which he was later invited to present at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society in 2012. 

Through time spent doing research and serving as a chemistry-teaching assistant, Sean and Dr. Redd created the bond they still share to this day. Sean credits Dr. Redd for helping instill in him the principles of how to be a successful chemist.

“Dr. Redd has contributed to my success both academically and personally. His ability to coach and encourage students is unmatched,” said Sean. “We would have meetings about science, but also about who I wanted to be personally. His stories of triumphs and failures gave me the confidence and desire to push harder, be better, and never give up. He is an incredible person, mentor, and friend.”

SUU laid the groundwork for Sean’s career as a chemist. He was a member of the Chemistry Club, served as an assistant in the school’s annual Chemical Olympics Competition, learned how to conduct research, made the Dean’s List and placed in the 90th percentile of the nation on the organic chemistry exit exam.

His four years in Cedar City were also the most influential time of his life personally. It was at SUU where he met his wife and had his first child. 

“My undergraduate experience revolved around individual growth and learning to balance responsibilities,” said Sean. “While each experience presented its own challenges, the accumulation of these events makes me the individual that I am today. Simply put, SUU is a central part of my life story.” 

Sean is now a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. The majority of his time is currently spent on research and improving the technology available to assist in the formation of chemical bonds.

He enjoys the fact that everyday he gets to learn and find new ways to solve problems. 

“Science has the ultimate job security,” said Sean. “As you learn more, you realize how little you truly know and that there is an infinite number of problems to solve. It’s absolutely fantastic!”

Learn more about SUU’s chemistry programs by visiting the Department of Physical Science.