Chemistry Department lands three prestigious research awards

November 10, 2009 | Research
By Staff

The UT Department of Chemistry has received three new grants totaling more than $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Joseph Schmidt isolated a new palladium catalyst so that it can be used to form new carbon-nitrogen bonds.

Dr. Joseph Schmidt isolated a new palladium catalyst so that it can be used to form new carbon-nitrogen bonds.

Dr. Joseph Schmidt, assistant professor of chemistry, was given a National Science Foundation Career Award for $570,000 that will fund his research project, “3-Iminophosphine Palladium Catalyst for Atom-Efficient Syntheses,” over the next five years.

“With the receipt of his Career Award, Dr. Schmidt continues a Chemistry Department tradition of excellence,” said Dr. Alan Pinkerton, professor and chair of chemistry. “He is the fifth assistant professor of UT’s Chemistry Department to receive this prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation, which recognizes the scientific merit of his proposed research and his potential for leadership in the field.”

The goal of Schmidt’s research is to find more efficient ways to build molecules.

“We make catalysts, which are compounds that make reactions go faster without getting consumed. This means they can be used over and over again, just like the catalytic converter in a car,” Schmidt explained. “If reactions go quicker, we can perform them at lower temperatures, thus saving energy.

“Our catalysts are used to streamline the fundamental steps utilized in building pharmaceuticals,” he continued. “We work with some of the professors in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy to help them to more effectively build their target molecules. We also collaborate with organic chemists across the country in studies involving other possible medications. Since the carbon-nitrogen bond is so very prevalent in medicinal compounds, that lends great utility to our efforts to make this kind of bond more effectively.”

Schmidt is grateful for the award.

“This award is only available to young scientists, and the awardees are viewed as the future leaders of their generation. I am honored to be among this group,” he said. “Without the support of my colleagues here in chemistry and the amazing research foundation we have created over the past decade, it would have been difficult to receive an award of this type.”

In addition to Schmidt’s award, the Department of Chemistry received funding totaling almost $1 million from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program.

“The highly sophisticated scientific instruments to be purchased with these awards will be used in research, teaching and community outreach, and will allow our undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs to continue to receive training on state-of-the-art research instrumentation,” Pinkerton said.

A Major Research Instrumentation Grant of approximately $450,000 was awarded for the purchase of a matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization tandem time-of-flight mass spectrometer, equipped with a spotting system. The Ohio Board of Regents and the University will provide additional funds of approximately $192,000 to support the purchase of this high-tech instrument.

“This mass spectrometer is the first instrument of its kind in northwest Ohio,” Pinkerton said. “The instrument will support multiple disciplines and will be applied to a wide range of materials, including biomolecules, large organic molecules and inorganic materials.”

Dr. Wendell P. Griffith, assistant professor of chemistry, was the principal investigator for this interdisciplinary proposal. Co-investigators were Drs. Dragan Isailovic and Timothy Mueser from the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich from the Department of Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, Dr. Connie Schall from the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and Dr. Leif Hanson from the College of Arts and Sciences Instrumentation Center.

A Chemical Research Instrumentation and Facilities Grant of $550,000 also was awarded for the purchase of a cyber-enabled scanning electron microscope.

Scanning electron microscopes allow scientists to probe the structure of materials with extraordinarily high spatial resolution, according to Pinkerton. The new microscope will be used to study the properties of technologically advanced materials.

“These studies will include the properties of composite negative thermal expansion materials; the properties of amorphous and nanocrystalline silicon photovoltaic materials and devices, as well as thin-film photovoltaic materials; the characterization of electrochemical sensors; the characterization of microextraction sampling devices; and studies of nanostructured materials,” he said.

Access to the scanning electron microscope will be widened via direct Web access to students in U.S. colleges and high schools, as well as a number of home-schooled students and the recently reopened Imagination Station (former COSI), Pinkerton added. The grant also includes funding to provide technical support for the cyber-infrastructure of the instrument.

Dr. Kristin Kirschbaum, director of the College of Arts and Sciences Instrumentation Center, spearheaded the proposal for this microscope. Contributing investigators were Drs. Jared Anderson, Terry Bigioni, Dean Giolando, Jon Kirchhoff, Cora Lind and Pinkerton from the Department of Chemistry, and Dr. Alvin Compaan from the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Both new instruments will be housed in and managed by the College of Arts and Sciences Instrumentation Center.

“These new additions will significantly enhance the research infrastructure and technological capabilities at UT and, via cyber-enabling, throughout the nation,” Pinkerton said. “The goal of augmenting the learning experiences of students at all levels, including K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, will also be attained.”

He added that these highly competitive instrumentation awards were made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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