William Dichtel of Cornell University Receives Prestigious Cottrell Scholar Award for Science Resear
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 William Dichtel, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, Cornell 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 Dichtel a 2012 Cottrell Scholar, based on his innovative research as well as his passion for teaching,” said James M. Gentile, RCSA president and CEO.
Dichtel’s research combines the most advanced techniques in synthetic chemistry to create new materials with unprecedented structural precision. Although early in his research career, Dichtel has developed considerable expertise in what chemists term “self-assembly.” It is the process by which molecules adopt a defined arrangement without guidance or management from an outside source. Self-assembly is increasingly used in the micro-lithography of electronics as well as the construction of nanodevices – incredibly tiny machines about the width of a human hair.
As a teacher Dichtel is responsible for imparting the fundamentals of organic chemistry to roughly 650 Cornell undergraduates. He has also played a major role in updating chemistry classes, and helped to make improvements to the freshman curriculum. His collaboration with another Cornell assistant professor, Jiwoon Park, has led to the development of two new courses for chemistry majors on nanomaterials.
Dichtel received the Cottrell Scholar Award based on his peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects.
Dichtel’s CSA research project involves using his skills in molecular self-assembly techniques in an attempt to improve efficiencies in the generation of electricity directly from sunlight. Specifically, he will work with organic polymers – cheap, readily available materials that include carbon atoms (hence “organic”). Polymers, organic or otherwise, come in long molecular chains, structures that are found in various forms in everything from plastic bags to the DNA inside our cells. Dichtel will be working with conjugated polymers, that is, molecules with double electron bonds that alternate with single electron bonds, giving them some ability to conduct electrical charge. He will be trying to combine them with what are called covalent organic frameworks, basically crystalline molecular structures, in the hope of making them more effective at generating and transporting electricity from sunlight.
It is a difficult, high-risk project with only a slim chance of success – the type of research RCSA is increasingly funding. “Today’s scientists must be encouraged to take greater risks if we are to achieve the breakthrough discoveries the world will need to prosper in coming decades,” Gentile said.
Meanwhile, Dichtel’s Cottrell Scholar education project involves making two major changes in Cornell’s chemistry curriculum. He will develop additional instructional material in nanoscience that draws on existing concepts in organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. This task will involve creating a new lecture course and an upper division laboratory beginning in the next academic year.
He also plans to restructure Cornell’s introductory and organic chemistry course material for advanced first- and second-year students.
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.