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  • Will Pomerantz

    Professor Pomerantz named McKnight Presidential Fellow

Professor William "Will" C.K. Pomerantz has been named a McKnight Presidential Fellow by the University of Minnesota. The McKnight Presidential Fellows Program is targeted at exceptional mid-career faculty to recognize their accomplishments and support their ongoing research and scholarship. The Fellowship is awarded to only five University professors annually. The fellow award is for three years, July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2021.


Pomerantz’ research is interdisciplinary and melds spectroscopy, cell biology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry approaches. He collaborates with colleagues in the departments of Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, and Biochemistry Molecular Biology and Biophysics, and with industrial collaborators at Eli Lilly. 

A central focus of his research program is the development of new approaches for modulating protein-protein interactions in the field of chemical epigenetics. Understanding molecular mechanisms that govern how genetic information is expressed, beyond what is dictated by genetic code, is at the heart of epigenetics. In the field of chemical epigenetics, chemists like Professor Pomerantz seek to apply chemical tools to manipulate epigenetic processes to further understand the biology or to treat diseases.  

Based on Pomerantz’ interest in inhibiting protein-protein interactions using small molecules, his lab has developed significant expertise in developing protein-based 19F NMR methods for drug discovery applications. Researchers in his lab have applied this approach toward transcription factors and transcription-associated proteins involved in epigenetics to ultimately discover new ways for treating cancer.

Additional areas of research being explored in the Pomerantz lab include using highly fluorinated materials as diagnostic 19F MRI imaging agents for oxygen sensing and molecular imaging of cancer biomarkers. This work is a collaborative with Chemistry Professor Christy Haynes and Professor Michael Garwood from the University’s Magnetic Resonance Center. Researchers also design peptide macrocycles as an orthogonal way to inhibit protein-protein interactions that are less tractable to small molecule inhibition. 

Pomerantz’ research program has garnered interest in both academia and industry. His work has been published in some of the American Chemical Society’s top publications as well as Nature Chemical Biology and Nature Protocols. He has received research grants from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Foundation, Masonic Cancer Center, Eli Lilly, Research Corporation, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health. 


In addition to his research, Pomerantz is an active and involved professor in the Department of Chemistry and University. He has developed a chemical biology boot camp for graduate students, which has run the last five years. Several of the boot camp modules helped with the development of the department’s chemical biology laboratory. To spread his enthusiasm for his research discipline, Pomerantz has taught chemical biology to retirees through the Osher Life Long Learning Institute (OLLI) over the last four years, and has held joint classes with OLLI and his students in his freshmen seminar course, “Chemistry to Modern Medicine: Changing the way we dye.” Recently, he is particularly interested in course-based undergraduate research experiences (CURE). With Professor Scott Bur at Gustavus Adophus College, they have integrated Pomerantz’s 19F NMR approaches into a new organic chemistry lab class. They are disseminating portions of this work in two book chapters. 

Teaching commitment 

In support of his commitment to teaching, Professor Pomerantz was selected as a teaching fellow in the College of Science and Engineering in 2014. Kris Gorman in the University's Center for Educational Innovation ran the program and has evaluated Pomerantz in the classroom. She noted: “Will Pomerantz has shown a dedication to student learning. Through his teaching, Will seeks to engage students in truly thinking like a chemist. He not only explains topics in clear and engaging ways, but also regularly has students solve problems or perform thought experiments to check their understanding of the material. Will is inventive in the ways he presents material and often consults the Journal of Chemical Education to find activities, assessment tools, and explanation strategies to teach particular concepts more effectively," she wrote.

One graduate student said, “To be honest I have not been a big fan of teaching and find it bore but your way of teaching has inspired me so much that now I am interested in teaching.”

About Professor Pomerantz

Pomerantz has been a professor in the Department of Chemistry since 2012. He also is an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, and one of the founding members of the Epigenetics Consortium on campus. Before coming to the University of Minnesota, he was a National Institutes of Health post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan. He earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spent a year as a Seydel/Fulbright Fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Ithaca College.

He has received numerous honors and awards, including recently being the first professor from the Department of Chemistry to receive the College of Science & Engineering Guillermo E. Borja Career Development Award, being named a Rising Star in Chemical Biology by the International Chemical Biology Society in 2016, Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement in 2016, University of Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professorship for 2016-18, Kimmel Scholar Award from the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research in 2015, National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2014, and CSE Teaching Fellow in 2014.

Pomerantz will receive this special mid-career faculty award, Tuesday, May 8, at an award-ceremony at the campus club and will be honored by the Board of Regents at its meeting in mid-May.