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Last modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012

IU chemists Carlson, Skrabalak named Cottrell Scholars

NSF also presents CAREER award to Carlson to support natural-products research

Sept. 12, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Erin E. Carlson and Sara E. Skrabalak, assistant professors of chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington, are among the 11 recipients in 2012 of Cottrell Scholar awards, a highly selective program that recognizes early-career researchers and promotes outstanding teaching.

Carlson also has been awarded a 2012 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award, the foundation's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty. Also called the NSF CAREER award, it will provide Carlson with $500,000 in funding over five years.

Erin Carlson and Sara Skrabalak

Erin Carlson and Sara Skrabalak

Print-Quality Photo

Skrabalak was awarded an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award in February 2010.

Both the Cottrell Scholar award and the NSF CAREER award recognize and support original research while encouraging education and outreach efforts that engage young students in studying science.

"It's remarkable that, out of only 11 Cottrell Scholars in the nation this year, two are members of the chemistry faculty here at IU Bloomington," said David Giedroc, chair of the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. "Professors Carlson and Skrabalak are conducting ground-breaking research and combining it with exciting and innovative teaching. We are extraordinarily proud of them and know they will accomplish great things."

Cottrell Scholar awards are presented by the Research Corp. for Science Advancement, a private foundation that funds scientific research and advocates for the advancement of science. Named for Frederick Gardner Cottrell, who founded the RCAS in 1912, the awards provide support for outstanding early career teacher-scholars in Ph.D.-granting institutions. Scholars receive $75,000 over three years.

Carlson's Cottrell and NSF awards support research aimed at developing new methods for discovering natural products; both also include education components that use natural products to excite students about learning and doing science.

Her Cottrell Scholar Award will support research aimed at discovering small molecules from natural sources that can be used to probe biological processes, looking for possible therapeutic compounds. The CAREER Award from the NSF Chemistry of Life Processes Program will focus on developing innovative methods to explore chemical space in natural products -- for example, by separating compounds by mechanisms such as functional group composition rather than properties such as size or solubility.

The Cottrell award will help Carlson create a new undergraduate class in which students will engage in research, collecting samples from nature and analyzing them to identify those with potential applications as therapeutic agents. The educational component of the NSF award will support the development of a program called Natural Products and Lighting the Fire of Curiosity, which uses plant-based products to ignite an interest in science among elementary and middle-school aged girls.

Skrabalak and her associates conduct research in materials chemistry and nanoscience, the latter of which concerns the unique properties of materials with dimensions of less than about one millionth of a meter. Her Cottrell Scholar Award research project involves synthesizing nanoscale structures composed of multiple metals and with defined architectures to perform tasks in electrochemical reactions.

She will integrate the concepts developed from her research into a public education program that promotes better understanding of nanoscience and generates interest among high-school students in studying science, technology, engineering and mathn -- the so-called STEM subjects. Her plan includes creating inquiry-based learning resources about nanoscience and a Nano Ambassadors Program that will link undergraduate researchers at IU with students in the high schools they attended.

Previous Cottrell Scholars at IU Bloomington include Lane Baker (2009), Mu-Hyun Baik (2006) and Nicola Pohl (2003) in the Department of Chemistry and Richard Van Kooten (1996) and Herbert Fertig (1994) in the Department of Physics. For more information see