Dr. Genessa Smith

Department of Chemistry & Physics

Genessa Smith is an associate professor of chemistry, and has been at UT Martin since 2012. She earned her Ph.D. at Colorado State University and her bachelor’s degree at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.

Smith’s training is in organic chemistry; she also teaches courses in general chemistry, introductory biochemistry and medicinal chemistry.

“Organic chemistry deals with the structure of molecules and how molecules react with each other,” she said. “I really like the applied aspect of that as well, exploring why some molecules are biologically active and how they interact with enzymes and receptors.”

Smith conducts research with undergraduates on the laboratory synthesis of biologically useful molecules that are found in bay leaves and black tea. 

She presented at a regional meeting of the Kentucky Lake Section of the American Chemical Society on Feb. 1 at Murray State University and at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society on Aug. 13-17 in San Francisco.

“I compiled 10 years of work and tried to tell the story of what I’m doing with undergraduate students,” she said. “It was gratifying because the presentation was well-received. I had graduate students come up to me afterward and say, ‘I can’t believe you’re trying to do natural products synthesis with undergrads; I’ve never heard of anybody trying to do that before.’ It was validating.”

Smith said it is more common to do methodology-type research at an undergraduate institution, where students are running the same basic reaction over and over but tweaking one variable each time.

“That’s a typical kind of research to do,” she said. “With the kind of research that I do, where you’re trying to do a multi-step synthesis, every reaction is totally different than the last one. If something doesn’t work and you’ve hit a roadblock, then you have to go back to the beginning and redesign the whole thing. Then, you’re doing even more new reactions.”

Smith is a native of Berthoud, Colorado, located between Denver and Fort Collins.

“When I left college with my bachelor’s degree, I actually had no intention of going to graduate school,” she said. “But then, I spent some time working in the industry, and I loved it. 

“I ended up working with several women who were mentors and role models for me. Seeing women who had families and could also do chemistry really well was inspirational to me. I realized that the two are not mutually exclusive paths.”

Smith and her husband, Ryan, will celebrate their 20th anniversary this summer. They have two children, Ada, 10, and Toby, 8.

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