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From Fat To Fit, Love In A Flask

by Linda Wang
June 16, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 24


Credit: Courtesy of John Janetzko
Double take: Janetzko before (left) and after his weight loss.
Before and after images of John Janezko, a chemistry student who lost a lot of weight.
Credit: Courtesy of John Janetzko
Double take: Janetzko before (left) and after his weight loss.

The image of the chemistry grad student as chained to the lab, surviving on fast food and eschewing all things healthy just took a hit from John Janetzko.

Weighing nearly 300 lb by the time he was a junior at the University of Toronto, Janetzko knew that his years of unhealthy eating and leading a sedentary lifestyle were finally catching up to him. He felt miserable.

A friend who worked in the same chemistry research lab noticed, and he encouraged Janetzko to join him at the gym. In the beginning, Janetzko could barely jog for 10 minutes, but he kept going. Meanwhile, he was also making much healthier choices in what he ate.

Janetzko recently shared his weight-loss journey with CNN’s “Weekly Weigh-In.” Now a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at Harvard University, Janetzko, 24, weighs a lean 170 lb, and the only weight he’s trying to gain is in muscle mass. He continues to work out regularly and has motivated others in his research group to do the same.

The lifestyle change has done wonders for both his self-esteem and his research productivity, he tells Newscripts. “It’s made a huge difference for me to feel more energetic, more enthusiastic, better about myself, and more confident.”

Janetzko says his research advisers have been incredibly supportive of his efforts to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Now, Janetzko is sharing that message with others. “You work hard in the lab, but you need to take time for yourself, you need to eat right, you need to exercise, you need to go out with your friends, and you need to take time off from the lab,” he says. “You’re not going to be productive in the lab if you’re miserable.”

He’s started a Tumblr page that explores chemistry and fitness (, and he’s considering becoming a vegetarian. Fittingly, his Ph.D. work is on the enzyme O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT), which plays an important role in metabolism.

Janetzko believes that it’s mostly a stereotype that graduate students subsist on ramen noodles and other unhealthy foods. “A lot of my lab mates are bringing in [for lunch] quinoa, beans, and things they made themselves,” he says.

Because of his weight loss, the Harvard grad student is also undertaking activities he never dreamed of doing before, including running a half marathon and playing on his lab’s volleyball team. “Physical fitness has allowed me to reach a lot of goals I didn’t think were attainable before,” he says. And he doesn’t just mean physical goals. “I’m able to have a more social and engaging life and be happier with my life as a whole,” Janetzko says. He’s even happy about sporting a smaller lab coat.

Wouldn’t it be nice if love came in a flask? Brooklyn-based Twig Terrariums was inspired by that very thought when it designed its We Have Chemistry terrarium, which features a pair of lovers in their own little Erlenmeyer ecosystem.

Credit: Twig Terranium
Awwww: Love in an Erlenmeyer flask.
In this terranium, an Erlenmeyer flask contains moss, rocks, and a tiny figurine couple locked in an embrace.
Credit: Twig Terranium
Awwww: Love in an Erlenmeyer flask.

The terrarium is part of the company’s product line of miniature gardens housed in everything from glass vessels to apothecary jars to tiny perfume bottles. Each terrarium contains a snapshot in miniature of one’s daily life or passions.

Online retailer UncommonGoods sells the chemistry terrarium for $150. Readers who are particularly ambitious can make their own terrariums with a do-it-yourself kit, available on the Twig Terrariums website at

Linda Wang wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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