January 27, 2004

Two faculty members receive prestigious NSF grants

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Two faculty members at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are receiving separate awards from the National Science Foundation that total more than $1 million over five years.

Boyd M. Goodson and Yong Gao are assistant professors in the University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program, designated only for the top new science scholars nationwide, offers the science foundation's most prestigious award for new faculty members.

At SIUC, the two awards mean that more than a quarter of the department's 15 faculty members will have active NSF CAREER grants. In 1999, associate professors Shaowei Chen and Daniel J. Dyer received awards for their respective projects.

"Most universities and most chemistry departments in the country would be envious of that kind of success rate," said John A. Koropchak, the University's vice chancellor for research and graduate dean.

"These grants are very prestigious and the programs are very competitive," Koropchak said. "So the fact that these two young faculty members won these grants is a very positive indication of their own work."

Receiving the awards "is a testament to the quality of the faculty we are hiring," Koropchak said. "It is also one element of things we need to see to achieve these goals. The success with these kinds of grants is an indication of excellence, which is a real target with Southern at 150."

Southern at 150 is the long-range blueprint for the University's growth. It calls for SIUC to become one of the nation's top 75 public research institutions by 2019, the year SIUC celebrates its 150th birthday.

Gao's project is "Superparamagnetic Nanoparticles as Soluble Supports for Recyclable Reagents and Scavengers." The goal is finding new and less expensive ways for cleaning and recycling chemical waste materials from a variety of compounds. The research could have applications in such diverse fields as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and environmental protection.

The award is $465,000 over five years.

The research will look to utilize a polymer-coated magnet to attract impurities contained within specific compounds, Gao said. Doing so allows companies to speed up existing processes for separating waste material from compounds and allow it to be recycled for other uses, reducing environmental waste.

"If we can accomplish the goals in the proposal it will have significant impact on the chemical industry and environmental protection," said Gao. The award will also enable Gao to hire more graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and undergraduate students for hands-on experience and research.

The current methods for extracting chemical waste from various compounds are very complicated, time consuming and not as reliable, Gao said.

Securing the prestigious award is "quite exciting," said Gao, who began his career at SIUC in 2000.

Goodson said he was surprised to be a recipient on his first try. The award is $550,000 over five years.

"I was ecstatic to find out," said Goodson, who began his career at SIUC in the fall of 2002. "It's humbling. I feel like I am in great company in the department and the rest of the country."

Goodson's research goal is to develop and apply new experimental methods that will use lasers and liquid crystal solutions to enhance nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) studies of molecular structure, dynamics and interactions. NMR is a spectroscopic technique related to magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.

The awards to Gao and Goodson are among 400 federally funded grants given out this year, according to the National Science Foundation.