Dimitri Leggas, a high school senior, joined the University of Kentucky Pharmacy staff last summer to research the development of a mathematical method for determining chemical structures.
The research involves determining atomic structures of molecules. To know how drugs work, and how enzymes work in the human body, researchers needed to know the atomic structure.
Leggas, 18, recently had research published in a flagship peer-reviewed journal on the project as a second author, and he recently submitted another manuscript for the project as a first author, which means he did most of the work.
"It's fairly rare," said Oleg Tsodikov, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences at UK and co-author of the articles. "Dimitri is a pretty gifted student. I think he is very motivated and naturally curious.
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"I've never had a student at a high school level that's been as productive as he has. Certainly there are students at an undergraduate level of that caliber. But even there, pretty rare."
Leggas, a Lexington native, attended Lafayette High School before transferring to the Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University in his junior year. At Gatton's residential program, a student's junior and senior years in high school are spent taking college classes in math, science and other subjects. Leggas also was a semifinalist in the 2014 National Merit Scholarship Program.
"I really like math," he said. "I guess this has been an outlet for me to explore new things."
Dave Melanson, director of alumni and external relations at UK's College of Pharmacy, said Leggas was one of several younger students whom the college mentors.
A student at Fayette County's STEAM Academy is conducting research in a lab there, Melanson said.
"We do a tremendous amount of hands-on science enrichment work with schools ... around the state," he said. "We have groups in all the time doing hands-on science, learning about science as early as third, fourth grade."
Leggas' father, Mark Leggas, is an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.
Mark Leggas said that from a very young age his son wanted "to know how things work."
"He's very persistent," Mark Leggas said.
Dimitri Leggas said he didn't intend to co-author published research.
"I was just doing this project because I was having fun with it," he said.