High School Student Publishes Research with UK Faculty


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 9, 2014) – Publishing research in a peer-reviewed journal is an accomplishment that even graduate students would be proud of. But 18-year-old Dimitri Leggas, a high school senior at the Gatton Academy in Bowling Green, Kentucky, already has one such accolade under his belt, with another manuscript recently submitted for publication.

Leggas worked with University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy research faculty Dr. Oleg Tsodikov on a project involving crystallography for much of last year. His research focused on developing a new mathematical tool to determine atomic structure of molecules, which help scientists determine how drugs and enzymes in the human body work.

"It was an opportunity to get to do a research project that was meaningful," Leggas said. "It was a good -- and fun -- experience."

Leggas was the second author on a publication in Acta Crystallographica A (also known as Foundations of Crystallography), and recently submitted his second publication for review -- this time as a first author. Publishing work as a first author is unusual even for undergraduate students, much less someone still in high school.

"It's fairly rare; I think Dimitri's intellect is on par with graduate-level students," Tsodikov said. "I didn't have to 'dumb down' much for him."

Leggas' research acumen also helped to catapult him into the national semifinals of the 2014 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. The Siemens Competition is known as the nation’s premier research program for high school students. This year the competition received a record 1,780 projects from nearly 4,500 students for consideration. Approximately 400 contestants were named semifinalists.

In addition to his research at the University of Kentucky, Leggas has conducted research with Jeremy Maddox, an assistant professor in the Western Kentucky University Department of Chemistry, since starting as a Gatton Academy student. Additionally, he is involved in a project with Claus Ernst, University Distinguished Professor in the WKU Department of Mathematics.

Despite his busy school schedule, Leggas, the son of UK College of Pharmacy faculty member Mark Leggas, says he tries to make time for other activities to unwind, including chess and ping-pong. But, he notes, he recently earned himself another accomplishment early in November.

"My dad and I just ran a marathon," he said. "So that was fun."

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