Postdoc Spotlight: Jonathan Caranto

Jonathan in lab
Jonathan Caranto with colleagues in the lab

Jonathan is featured as part of Cornell's Postdoc Appreciation Week 2015. Read more about the week's events, giveaways, and featured postdocs here.

What is your area of research?

Bioinorganic chemistry. I currently study the metalloenzymology of nitrification in Kyle Lancaster’s lab in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

All of the cool toys! I was drawn to my graduate school advisor, Donald Kurtz, because he used stopped-flow spectrophotometry and electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy among other techniques. I had never heard of these techniques and I wanted to learn more, so I joined his lab. It turned out to be a fortunate choice because the field investigates a broad range of interesting topics including environmental biochemistry, human health and energy conversion, all of which are critical research fields that have a direct impact on society.

Why is this research important?

Environmental and ecological health. Nitrification converts ammonia from fertilizer to nitrite and nitrate, both of which are easily carried away from crops by run-off water. These species move to estuaries where they cause algae blooms and subsequently, dead zones—regions of low oxygen concentrations that are uninhabitable by marine life. Thus, nitrification has a major impact on ecology, environment and communities that are dependent on fishing industries. Our research aims to study how enzymes convert ammonia to nitrite to help inform farming practices or design chemical inhibitors that will slow down ammonia transformation to nitrite.

How has your background influenced your scholarship?

When I was younger, basketball was my life. I played all day, played college ball and even pursued a career playing professional basketball in the Philippines. While travelling in the Philippines, I was struck by the crippling poverty. I decided that basketball would only be my career, but that I would spend most of my time trying to help the nation’s people, somehow. I was not able to keep my promise, my run as a basketball player ended within two months, and I returned to the United States. However, I maintained my desire to help society, but did not really know how. At the time, I had a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and decided to continue my education to get my Ph.D. Now, I like to find problems involving health or the environment that I can work on using my skills in chemistry and biochemistry. Knowing that my research efforts may one day positively influence the world drives me every day.

What else has influenced your thinking as a researcher or scholar?

I’ve had amazing mentors throughout my career. For that reason, I believe that my job is equal parts progressing science and helping to develop future scientists.

What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy in your spare time?

Basketball, cooking, travelling, board/card games.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I was excited to work for a young professor and help with getting his research off the ground.

What’s next for you?

I will apply for assistant professor positions at research-oriented institutions.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students?

Enjoy the ride and embrace failure; I have learned much more when I was wrong than I ever did when I was right.