Eric LeGresley (centre) with graduate student Kyle Greenway (his project director) and SFU chemistry professor Mario Pinto at SFU's Compute Canada/WestGrid computing facility, which is used in their research project for testing the effectiveness of anti-flu drugs. Photo credit: Marianne Meadahl, SFU.

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Junior gymnast springs into SFU Chemistry

July 01, 2012
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“Find a way to do what you love, even if you have to push through barriers or bend around obstacles to do it,” are the words of wisdom that Eric LeGresley would provide to children with a passion for math, science, sports, music, or anything else. At age 15, this former competitive gymnast is realizing that flexibility, agility and balance are as important in manoeuvering through life as they are in mastering the parallel bars.

As a youngster, Eric dedicated most of his spare time - about 20 hours a week – to gymnastics. Meanwhile, his exceptional aptitude for academics, especially math and science, was accelerating him through school. About a year and a half ago, Eric attended one of SFU’s “Taste of Pi” events for select groups of high school students, where SFU professor and Vice-President, Research B. Mario Pinto was describing his research on molecular mimicry for drug and vaccine design. Eric, fascinated and excited by what he heard, asked his calculus professor Dr. Veselin Jungic to introduce him to Dr. Pinto after the talk. “I quizzed him on his background and, impressed by his enthusiasm; I invited him to work in my lab,” said Dr. Pinto.

Since joining the Pinto lab in March of 2011, life has become a lot busier for Eric. He has been concurrently taking university-level chemistry and calculus courses at SFU while finishing his high school requirements. The day of this interview, he had recently returned from Prince Edward Island, where his research under the direction of graduate student Kyle Greenway on developing a computer algorithm that significantly reduces the time for screening potential anti-viral drugs won a Platinum Award for the best senior project at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. (He also received the Manning Award for Innovation Excellence, as well as several others.) Eric was then off to the Canadian Society for Chemistry conference in Calgary where he presented a poster with Greenway, with whom he hopes to co-publish an academic journal article this summer.

Eric is looking forward to dividing his time between another summer of engaging in research at the Pinto lab at SFU and attending PROMYS, a mathematics program addressing problems in Number Theory for high school students at Boston University. With scholarship offers from several universities, he will officially begin university in the September of 2013 to work toward his ultimate goal of obtaining a Ph.D., and potentially an M.D. with a focus on research instead of clinical practice.

“Eric is very motivated, and absorbs information like a sponge. He is also able to put into practice the theories that he is learning in our group,” says Pinto, who adds that it is the supportive environment of the lab that is really enabling Eric to flourish. The Pinto lab members are a multicultural team who not only teach Eric about science, but also mentor him in the essential skills of how to interact with fellow researchers and faculty members.

Eric still finds time to play sax in his school’s jazz band, judge gymnastic competitions, hang out with his brother and friends and help his mom try out new recipes. He credits his parents with providing a stimulating intellectual environment at home. They encourage Eric’s younger brother to pursue his own passions of history and literature, and continue to support Eric’s dream. Eric is also grateful to his elementary and high school teachers for allowing him to advance at his own pace. Had he been restricted to following the grade curriculum for his age, he feels that he would have quickly become bored with school, though he is quick to add that he would have found another way to pursue his interests. Of this, there is little doubt: if anything tries to stand in Eric’s way, he can vault right over it.

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June 17, 2018