Organic Chemistry for the Average Joe

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While he might be considered an ultimate chemical resource, Joe Del Nano would rather you think of him as an average Joe.

“I’m not an expert in organic chemistry — I don’t have a PhD in organic chemistry or an advanced degree,” Del Nano said. “I’m this friendly Joe from the neighborhood, who’s done enough organic chemistry that I feel like I’ve seen a lot and I can explain things really well.”

Olivia Vogler, a junior neuroscience student, said Del Nano was excellent in chemistry.

“He’s amazing in chemistry and he’s a great resource for students,” Vogler said. “I used his videos a lot in Orgo 1 and he was actually my tutor. We met once a week and before all my exams. He helped so much.

Del Nano, a 2017 Pitt alumnus, is the founder of jOechema website and YouTube channel dedicated to helping students do well in organic chemistry, a class required for many science majors, including chemistry, biology, and those on a pre-medicine track.

Del Nano started his first semester at Pitt in Organic Chemistry 1 as a pre-medical major, intending to go to medical school. But Organic Chemistry 2 changed its trajectory. Del Nano said there was a class reaction that made him reconsider what he wanted to do with his life – the Wolff-Kishner reaction, which turns a ketone into an alkane.

“The mechanism just talks to me and says I feel like someone should come up behind me and give me an atomic wedgie,” Del Nano said. “But what I felt was such an ‘aha’ moment. And I was like, ‘I don’t think I want to go to medical school anymore. I need to do something with chemistry.

Pamela Smith | visual editor

According to Vogler, Del Nano is a bit of a celebrity at Pitt’s Chevron Science Center because many organic chemistry students watch his videos to help them study.

“Everyone knows who he is,” Vogler said. “You can say ‘jOechem’ to anyone who took organic chemistry classes at Pitt and they’ll say they watched his videos or found him helpful.”

Dan Koch, a 2017 Pitt alumnus and friend of Del Nano, said he’s always been a very likeable guy and does a great job of making people feel valued and appreciated.

“He does a really good job of making people feel seen,” Koch said. “Since I’ve known him, he’s had a huge group of friends. He really is always a very kind person to others and makes them feel like he cares about them.

After five years of jOechem and experience as an undergraduate teaching assistant in organic chemistry, Del Nano has some teaching experience, but hasn’t always been the most confident of being in front of a room. explaining complex chemistry.

“I’ll never forget the first time I did reviews when I was UTA. I loved organic chemistry, but it really kicked me in the pants to be in front of a room explaining things to a whole class of eyeballs,” Del Nano said. “I was super anxious and my voice was probably shaking and I remember leaving the room thinking, ‘Damn, I wasn’t as good than I expected from the start.'”

Del Nano recalled an email from a girl who attended the University of Washington who, after suffering a concussion, used her videos to help her study for her Organic Chemistry final 2. Del Nano said said he finds it hard to believe people in Pitt are using his videos for help, let alone people around the country and the world. He thinks it’s the students who spend time watching his videos to study that do all the work, not him.

“Anyone who ever told me something nice about jOechem or used it and it helped them, they do all the work. I can do up to 6.022×1023 spreadsheets. It doesn’t help anyone unless you sit down and do the work and do the learning that actually puts the knowledge in your head,” Del Nano said. “So that felt like an incredible endorsement. And I was so proud of it. »

Organic chemistry professor George Bandik said he liked jOechem as a resource students could turn to for help and that he could tell students they really found the content helpful.

“I actually recommend it to kids in my class,” Bandik said. “And several years ago, we actually asked him to come and talk to a [American Chemistry Society] meeting, about jOechem and how he started it, why he started it and all that kind of stuff. And the room was packed. And people applauded him, because I think undergraduates really appreciate what he does.

Bandik said the videos are really helpful for many students because Del Nano doesn’t get too into theory, instead explaining the content in an easy way for students who need extra help to understand.

“I think he’s very special with the Pitt students because he graduated from Pitt and I think jOechem’s stuff is very close to how we teach organic chemistry,” Bandik said. “I think it’s because he was a student, he remembers what it’s like to not know what something is and what explanations you have to get to get to where you want to be. So I think that’s the big plus.

But jOechem isn’t Del Nano’s full-time job, despite the work he puts into it. Del Nano currently works in software engineering in San Francisco – the industry in which his older and younger brothers work. He said he pretty much followed the path his older brother took to get to where he is today.

“He did chemical engineering at Pitt and became a software engineer. So at least I saw it was possible. So whenever I started doing it, I leaned on him a lot and also my little brother who was a computer science student in Maryland, because they are very capable people,” said Del Nano. “I was the last one living in Pittsburgh, and I was looking for a new job in early 2021. And my goal was either New York or San Francisco, and San Francisco worked. FOMO pushed me to move to San Francisco.

Del Nano got his first chemical engineering job in 2015 doing a co-op at EQT, a Pittsburgh-based gas company. They hired him as a petroleum engineer, but he ended up doing a lot of “busy work”. Del Nano said he aspired to be “the change from within”, but found the job miserable.

“I didn’t really go to well sites, I was often ignored and it was a miserable working environment. And I just remember thinking to myself, no one is happy here. This can’t be the rest of my life,” Del Nano said. “And when I got work, it was just clunky Excel spreadsheets that people pawned to me saying, you know, ‘Please improve that.'”

In his role as a chemical engineer at EQT, Del Nano began learning to code. He credits his brothers, both software engineers, as coding mentors. His new software skills enabled him to develop jOechem as a website.

“That’s when I got the idea, I should do a set of worksheets because I do a lot of tutoring, as well as the set like I enjoy programming,” said said Del Nano. “And that’s when I started talking to my brother, I was also seeing how much my older brother loved his job in software. And I was like, ‘Even if it doesn’t turn not into a job, it seems like something I would like to do and enjoy.’

Koch said jOechem was a passion project for Del Nano, and was really meant to help students with the subject. Although he helped Del Nano professionally, that was never the intention.

“jOechem was really starting the first semester of my senior year. And it was really cool to see how passionate he was about it,” Koch said. “It was a selfless thing that he did. Not just in teaching and O-chem.

Del Nano credits jOechem for why he is now in software. He had to learn how to program the website, and although he had a degree in chemical engineering, the experience in website development stood out for some employers.

“jOechem is the only reason I’m a professional software engineer. I had a little time between graduating in December 2017 and starting my job at AstraZeneca in September 2018. So I was about nine months old and very, very broke. So I needed a job,” Del Nano said. “And I found this work randomly on Indeed for this tiny little web development company in Greensburg using the same language I used to create jOechem.”

Del Nano has helped many students, but organic chemistry hasn’t come easy to him, and there are some subjects he has struggled with as well. Hydrogen nuclear magnetic resonance, or H-NMR, imaging was a difficult subject for him.

“So I will say I was really bad at proton NMR the first time I learned it, I was so bad,” Del Nano said. “I remember my O chem 1 final, I literally left a 10 or 15 point question blank. Also, I don’t even remember how to do this reaction, but I do remember it was called an enantiomeric selective reaction and it blew me away. I was like, ‘If it’s on the final, I’m just taking the L’, but luckily it wasn’t.

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