Recent News

Erin Carlson, Cottrell Scholar Award

Tucson, AZ – April 12, 2012 – Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA), America’s oldest foundation devoted exclusively to science, announced today that it is honoring Erin Carlson, assistant professor of chemistry, Indiana University - Bloomington, with a prestigious academic award, the Cottrell Scholar Award. The Award, one of 11 issued nationally this year, recognizes leaders in integrating science teaching and research at America’s top research universities. Each recipient receives a $75,000 grant and admission to an exclusive community of scholars, the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative. This year’s awards are made as RCSA celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding by Frederick Gardner Cottrell, for whom the awards are named. The awards, instituted in 1994, honor Cottrell, a scientist, inventor and philanthropist. Cottrell was a science visionary, whose invention of the electrostatic precipitator was an early environmental innovation that reduced pollution from smokestacks. Cottrell founded what is now RCSA to provide support for scientific research and experimentation at scholarly institutions. “RCSA has named Carlson a 2012 Cottrell Scholar, based on her innovative research as well as her passion for teaching,” said James M. Gentile, RCSA president and CEO. Carlson’s research focuses on the development and application of new technologies to explore the ways bacteria cause disease, and to identify effective counter measures. To accomplish these goals, she works at the interface of chemistry and biology. She and her associates are pursuing the development of new technologies for discovering useful compounds from natural sources, including innovative methods for compound isolation, screening, and diversification. She uses state-of-the-art methods to map the biochemical pathways by which bacteria cause disease and to understand how antibiotics can help to resist infections. As an early-career teacher, Carlson has played a major role in revamping the University’s graduate curriculum in chemical biology. She helped develop an interdisciplinary graduate training program in quantitative and chemical biology, and she has updated curriculum to reflect modern interdisciplinary science across the traditional areas of chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics. Carlson is co-chair of the Women in Chemistry (WIC) organization at IU, and she also obtained funds from the university to award fellowships to women and underrepresented groups for summer undergraduate research and graduate student conferences. She received the Cottrell Scholar Award (CSA) based on her peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects. Her CSA research project is aimed at the discovery of small molecules from natural sources. She hopes to use these molecules to probe biological processes, looking for possible therapeutic compounds. To do this she plans to develop new methods to isolate natural chemical compounds “We are well-equipped to develop these methods,” she said, adding that her research group has novel strategies to facilitate the discovery of new compounds. “These methods will enable us to explore the immense structural and functional diversity of nature’s small molecules with unprecedented scope and depth,” Carlson said. Meanwhile, in her Cottrell Scholar education project, Carlson intends to address the fact that only 11 percent of the majors in the IU chemistry department are participating in undergraduate research. RCSA has long maintained that involving students in real-world research is the best method for teaching the next generation of scientists. Allowing undergraduates to conduct research encourages them to think like scientists, rather than merely to learn about science. Research experiences play a significant role in enhancing both the level of interest and the depth of understanding of undergraduate students. Those who participate in research show enhanced self confidence and the capacity to work independently, as well as an appreciation for how scientists solve problems through the gathering and interpretation of data. Carlson said most undergraduate science courses present her field of inquiry as a collection of facts and rules, “and all too often, do not convey the creativity, experimentation and curiosity so fundamental to the scientific world. As a result, many students shy away from science in favor of fields that they find more relevant to their everyday lives.” She added that she hopes to create courses that “encourage students to apply the concepts they have learned, to assess data instead of merely obtaining it and, ultimately, to generate their own questions and experimental protocols to find the answers.” The Cottrell Scholars program owes its origins to RCSA’s concern with the apparent separation of teaching and research in Ph.D. institutions. “Rather than being communities of university-scholars, universities are often perceived as collections of specialists,” RCSA’s Gentile said. “We seek to reinforce the growing awareness that these two functions are complementary rather than wholly or partially exclusive.” ### For further information: contact Emma Mittelstadt at Goodman Media International, 212-576-2700 x250 or About Research Corporation for Science Advancement – Research Corporation for Science Advancement ( – formerly known as Research Corporation – was founded in 1912 and is the second-oldest foundation in the United States (after the Carnegie Corporation) and the oldest foundation devoted wholly to science. Research Corporation is a leading advocate for the sciences and a major funder of scientific innovation and of research in America’s colleges and universities. Follow updates from RCSA on Facebook and Twitter.

Return to list