Suzanne Bart of Purdue University Receives Prestigious Cottrell Scholar Award for Science Research a
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 Suzanne Bart, assistant professor of chemistry, Purdue University, 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 Suzanne Bart a 2012 Cottrell Scholar, based on her innovative research as well as her passion for teaching,” said James M. Gentile, RCSA president and CEO.
Bart’s research centers on the vital role of certain types of catalysts in chemical reactions. A catalyst is substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.
“Catalytic transformations play a crucial role in society, including the large-scale production of commodity chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other materials,” she said.
Bart is particularly interested in what chemists call “transition metal catalysis.” The term “transition metal” refers to metal atoms listed in the central blocks on the Periodic Table of Elements. Transition metals tend to have incomplete inner electron shells – roughly, these are gaps in the orbit of the electrons around the atom’s central core, or nucleus – as well as multiple valence electrons – that is, electrons farthest from the atom’s nucleus. Valence electrons are prone to interact with nearby atoms. The general nature of transition metal electrons makes these elements a source of endless fascination for research chemists.
As an early-career teacher, Bart’s lectures in the class General Chemistry for Engineers are regularly attended by 450 students, from whom she consistently receives high ratings. In addition to covering the normal course material, she makes use of demonstrations in her lectures to keep the students engaged and illustrate important concepts. Based on her own cutting-edge research, she also designs experiments for high school teachers to perform for their students, thus taking the principles of advanced chemistry into local schools. Recently Bart organized the first-ever "High School Day for Girls" in the Purdue chemistry department, a one-day workshop for juniors and seniors to learn about science careers and do hands-on science.
Bart received the Cottrell Scholar Award (CSA) based on her peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects.
Bart’s CSA research project involves exploring the catalytic qualities of various forms of uranium, which are relatively inexpensive and easily obtainable compared to some other commonly used catalysts composed of precious metal. She will focus on the ability of uranium molecules to aid another material, pryridine, to undergo chemical changes through the addition and subtraction of oxygen atoms or their electrons. Pyridine is widely used in fertilizers and medicines.
“Understanding how to perform these processes with uranium will make this readily available and inexpensive metal a viable alternative to commonly used precious metals,” Bart said.
Meanwhile, for her Cottrell Scholar education project, she intends to make Purdue’s incoming-freshman chemistry course for engineers more approachable for under-represented students.
“Making science approachable by removing the fear and intimidation from both the subject and the instructor shows students that anyone who wants to, regardless of race, sex, socioeconomic status or academic record, can study STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields and learn to think critically and solve problems,” Bart said.
Her plan calls for instituting special discussion sessions for under-represented students. These sessions will be led by more advanced students, called peer leaders, who have done well in the introductory courses. Under Bart’s supervision, each week the peer leader will meet with his or her group for problem solving and discussion of lecture and lab material. The emphasis will be on critical thinking and understanding concepts, she said, adding that the goal is to “increase retention in these courses and promote continued success in specialized majors. This process will help diversify student populations and workforces, and bring fresh new ideas to education and research.”
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.”
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About Research Corporation for Science Advancement – Research Corporation for Science Advancement (www.rescorp.org) – 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.