Yale’s Seth Herzon Receives Prestigious Cottrell Scholar Award for Science Research and Teaching
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 Seth Herzon, assistant professor of chemistry, Yale 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 Herzon a 2012 Cottrell Scholar, based on his innovative research as well as his passion for teaching,” said James M. Gentile, RCSA president and CEO.
Herzon’s research focuses broadly on the chemical synthesis of natural products that perform important biological functions, but which nevertheless may be in short supply. His research group recently developed a process to synthesize the neuroprotective agent huperzine A, and is now working with the U.S. Army to evaluate its potential as defense against chemical weapons such as sarin and VX, among the most toxic compounds known to man.
As an early-career teacher, Herzon monitors Yale undergraduates in his laboratory, and he has developed two new graduate-level courses in chemistry. He has also established an exchange program with Haverford College, a small Quaker-based liberal arts college in Philadelphia. Through this program, Haverford undergraduates are exposed to the front-lines of chemistry by conducting hands-on research in Herzon’s laboratory each summer. He has also helped organize Yale’s Science Pathways program. It seeks to encourage high school students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, to pursue degrees in science.
Herzon received the Cottrell Scholar Award based on his peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects.
His research project involves completing the synthesis of an unusual compound produced by a rare marine bacterium. The compound, discovered in 2001, is called lomaiviticin, and researchers say they believe it may be effective in targeting cancer stem cells, especially those that cause ovarian, brain, lung and prostate cancers, as well as leukemia.
Herzon, who has been working on the compound since 2008, managed to create one form of lomaiviticin in the laboratory for the first time. "But this compound is structurally very different from other natural products, which has made it extremely difficult to synthesize in the lab," he said.
Gil Mor, M.D., a researcher at the Yale School of Medicine who is collaborating with Herzon, said of lomaiviticin’s potential, "If you can kill the stem cells before they have the chance to form a tumor, the patient will have a much better chance of survival.”
Meanwhile, Herzon’s Cottrell Scholar education project involves improving Yale’s sophomore organic chemistry course.
“Sophomore ‘orgo’ is truly a gateway class,” he said. “It is the point at which many students make their decisions to pursue chemistry as a major. By improving teaching, and improving the way students learn, we can stimulate more undergraduates to select chemistry as a course of study in the long-term.”
He added that he hopes to take the teaching improvements he makes to the organic chemistry course available to other junior faculty at Yale. “It’s likely to be relevant to instructors across disparate disciplines,” Herzon said.
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.