MolE Alum receives 2020 Graduate School Dissertation Award Filed Under: AwardsMolE PhDNews July 24, 2020 By Kate Stringer | Originally published on the UW Graduate School’s website Daniel Lee's dissertation defense didn't go precisely as planned. After COVID-19 moved academic work online, the UW molecular engineering graduate student had to present his thesis about polymer synthesis over video chat. But Lee found a silver lining: the mentor who first inspired his interest in chemistry was able to watch his defense, Tom Ruttledge, a lecturer at Cornell University. As an undergraduate student at Cornell, Lee was almost finished with a psychology major junior year before he found himself in Ruttledge's organic chemistry class. There was something about Ruttledge's enthusiasm that drew Lee to the subject. He made chemistry look elegant. During his defense, Lee was also able to thank Ruttledge, who passed away a month later. Ruttledge's mentorship and friendship set Lee on a path of exploring chemistry from multiple perspectives, first in industry, then in graduate school, switching labs midway through, to now working as a postdoc at Stanford University. "Some of the amazing things that happen in our lives or where we end up is just a product of the people, the things that happen to us, that we respond to," Lee said. "Sometimes I think about, what if I had never taken that class? I'm sure it would have been fine, we'd just be doing something else, but it just seems so right." Lee's graduate thesis, "Synthesis of novel backbone functional polymers," was honored with the 2020 Distinguished Dissertation Award from the Graduate School. Lee developed a new polymer, of which he is listed as the sole inventor on a provisional patent application.