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Eric Nacsa Joins Faculty of Department of Chemistry

Eric Nacsa Joins Faculty of Department of Chemistry

The Penn State Department of Chemistry is excited to announce that Dr. Eric Nacsa will be joining the department faculty starting June 1, 2019 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry.

Dr. Nacsa earned a B.S. from Harvey Mudd College and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He comes to Penn State from Princeton University, where he is conducting postdoctoral research with Professor David MacMillan.

Dr. Philip Bevilacqua, head of the Department of Chemistry, commented “Eric has done incredible work during in his PhD and postdoctoral studies in the area of synthetic organic chemistry.  He has designed potent organic bases and catalysts, as well as reagents for enantioselective alkylation reactions. Eric has creative ideas for new directions in synthetic chemistry that use novel and direct approaches for organic transformations.  Eric is an outstanding hire and we are very excited to have him joining our faculty!”

Dr. Nacsa is looking forward to making the transition to Penn State. He notes that, although he was impressed by the University’s top-tier research environment, he was particularly drawn to the atmosphere of collaboration within the department. “The highly collaborative nature of the Eberly College of Science provides a unique opportunity to make a notable scientific impact,” he says, “this environment will make it easier to work with other scientists to help me address my own technical challenges, and for me to lend my expertise to a broader range of problems.” Dr. Nacsa was also impressed by the department’s dedication to educating the next generation of scientists. “I really value PSU's commitment to teaching,” he says, “meeting with the chemistry teaching faculty was the most memorable part of my interview because I was amazed at how much support they receive, especially in the context of a large public research university. I am excited to be a part of this important and well-executed mission to provide quality, public higher education.”

Dr. Nacsa’s current research focuses on developing processes to make organic synthesis more efficient by creating techniques to manipulate the individual parts of molecules in new, productive ways. His work has the potential to help scientists discover new, life-saving drugs by giving researchers the tools to prepare the thousands of chemical compounds that are typically evaluated on the way to developing a new medicine  more quickly. “The faster each of these compounds can be prepared, the better we can make a contribution to human health,” he explains.

He plans to take this research even further at Penn State, noting, “I really want to leverage the chemical tools that I plan on developing to do more than make small organic molecules, which has been the traditional scope of organic synthesis. I think that this work could address problems in materials chemistry, renewable energy, and chemical biology.” He adds, “I believe that Penn State will provide an especially promising environment to achieve this goal.” Dr. Nacsa is looking forward to establishing a vibrant research group which will work toward this goal and address pressing problems in biochemistry.  “It is Eric’s commitments to scholarship and to our chemistry community that are especially important for our department”, added Dr. Bevilacqua.

Dr. Nacsa and his wife are looking forward to moving to State College with their dog, Winston. “We spent most of our 20s in NYC and the LA area, and are looking to transition away from bigger metro areas to start a family,” Dr. Nacsa explains, “We both grew up in smaller college towns and will be very happy to be able to have more space to play with our dog and our future children while still being a short distance from downtown and work.”

Join the Department of Chemistry in welcoming Dr. Nacsa to Penn State!

Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

Chem 110: Challenging The Lecture Hall Experience

Chem 110: Challenging The Lecture Hall Experience


What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘lecture hall’? For many students, taking a class with hundreds of other students may seem intimidating or uninspiring. However, Dr. Mary Jo Bojan, one of the instructors for Chem 110, is aiming to change all of that.


Chem 110 is Penn State’s first-semester general chemistry course, designed to prepare students for the more advanced courses they’ll have to take during their college career. Even though the class is vitally important, many students struggle to learn in large classes like Chem 110. Dr. Bojan’s answer to this problem has been to create an active-learning environment that gives students a chance to engage with the material they’re studying.


Instead of just delivering lectures, Dr. Bojan works hard to give each student the chance to participate in the lesson. “I want students to do as much active learning as possible,” she says while explaining how she structures the class. Each lecture contains active-learning opportunities that designed to give students the chance to put their knowledge into action. These opportunities include group problem-solving activities and live, in-class chemical demonstrations, such as fuel cells and combusting balloons.


During lecture, students are also encouraged to sit in their teaching assistant’s (TA) section, giving them the chance to talk through problems and build a close-knit learning community, even in a crowded lecture hall. Dr. Bojan says this is an important part of the class. “Big lectures are impersonal,” she explains, “it’s less intimidating when they sit with their TAs, and it gives them a smaller setting for collaborative learning.” Learning assistants—undergraduate students who have taken Chem 110 before and have volunteered to help other students succeed—are also on hand during lectures to give students a helping hand and answer questions.


Chances for active learning don’t end in lecture, however. In addition to the three weekly lectures for the entire class, each student is also assigned to a weekly recitation led by a teaching assistant. Recitations give students the chance to develop a deeper understanding of the topics they’re studying. Each group contains about thirty students, giving them the chance to participate actively in class work, to practice problem-solving techniques, and to ask questions about the material they’re studying in a smaller environment.


Outside of class, students continue the active-learning with their electronic textbook, a unique resource that was developed by Dr. Bojan and other faculty members at Penn State. The book is customized to Penn State’s method of teaching chemistry and reinforces the problem solving methods that students learn in class. It’s full of tools that students won’t find elsewhere, like interactive practice problems that link back to the text and interactive molecules. Although the book is designed to be used in Chem 110 and Chem 112, students have access to it for four years after they purchase it, so they can use it as a reference in other classes.


For students who don’t have a strong background in chemistry or math, there are even more opportunities to engage with the material covered in lectures. Chemistry 108 is a one-credit course that dovetails with Chem 110 to give students at risk of failure extra tools and support. Students in Chem 108 attend one extra recitation a week, where they receive extra help from a TA and have a chance to ask questions. These students also have access to extra resources, including problems that are written in scaffolded steps to help students arrive at the right answer and mastery-based modules that make no assumptions about prior knowledge. “Chem 108 provides an alternate mode of learning,” Dr. Bojan explains, “it provides additional structure, and students like that...there are a lot of As in Chem 108.”


Thanks to Dr. Bojan’s methods, students take away much more than scientific knowledge when they leave Chem 110. Aside from a strong academic foundation, Dr. Bojan hopes that her students develop other skills that will help them excel in upper-level science classes. “I want them to take away problem solving skills, communication skills, and the ability to reason and make connections,” she says.


Maria Gregor Finds Research Opportunities at University Park

Maria Gregor Finds Research Opportunities at University Park

When Maria Gregor transferred to Penn State from her local community college, she was immediately struck by the wide variety of resources available to chemistry students at University Park. “Penn State has instruments that other schools don’t,” she notes, “I appreciate that we have access to things like the NMR Spec and the GPC.” However, the resources available at Penn State go beyond access to state-of-the-art instruments. Gregor— who is a native of Butler, PA— came to Penn State in search of opportunities not offered at smaller schools, including the chance to do cutting-edge research on campus.

“Find a lab that interests you, and then reach out,” Gregor advises while describing how she got involved with research at Penn State, “be proactive.” After enrolling in classes, one of the first things Gregor did was start looking for research opportunities. After reading about faculty labs and contacting several professors about opportunities in their groups, Gregor found herself working in Dr. Elizabeth Elacqua’s lab. She has been conducting research with Dr. Elacqua and her group for over a year, and is currently working to synthesize conjugated polymers that could function as semi-conductive material.

Because Gregor’s polymers are better at conducting electrons, they’re ideal for use in organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), which are used to create digital displays in devices like television screens, computer monitors, and smartphones. OLEDs emit visible light, meaning that tech manufacturers don’t have to build backlights into their products and can make their devices thinner and lighter. Gregor explains that many industries are moving away from inorganic products in favor of emerging organic materials, such as the polymers she helped to create.

Her work was highlighted in a recently submitted paper.

Completing the synthesis of the polymers was a proud moment for Gregor. “It’s was exciting when we finally got our polymers,” she says, “after working on them for so many months, it was great to see the finished product. Doing research is very rewarding,” she continues, “it’s exciting when your science works.”

However, Gregor is gaining more from her research experience than the completed polymers. “Research helps you develop as a scientist,” she explains, “it helps you become more confident in your science and in yourself. You develop better communication skills and a deeper understanding of the science.”

After graduating, Gregor plans to pursue a career in industry and is considering returning to school for a master’s degree after working for a few years. She’s found a supportive group of faculty, staff, and students within the Department of Chemistry who are helping her work toward that goal.

“Everyone here tries to make sure you know what you need to know for life outside of academia,” she explains, “everyone is very warm within the department. I’ve never run into a person who is unwilling to help when you have a question. Everyone is willing to sit down and talk things through with you.”

Gregor’s research experience in Dr. Elacqua’s lab has given her an opportunity to prepare for her career with hands-on learning, an opportunity she encourages other students to take advantage of. “It’s a great way to start your scientific journey,” Gregor says when asked what advice she would give to undergrads who are interested in doing research, “research isn’t just for chemistry students. We have a chemical engineering major and a psych major in our lab. There are so many opportunities here; don’t be afraid to ask professors about their research or to ask for advice. Don’t be afraid to get to know the people around you.”


In her free time, Gregor enjoys reading fantasy novels, playing the violin, and watching videos.

Current Student Feature: Ashley Saunders

Current Student Feature: Ashley Saunders

Every chemistry major at Penn State has a different story about how they discovered their passion for science.


For third-year chemistry major Ashley Saunders, the light-bulb moment came in middle school when she attended a law and CSI camp. Saunders thought she wanted to be a lawyer when she started, but she left the camp with newfound enthusiasm for forensic science. “I thought the law stuff was a bit boring,” she admits, “instead, I got really interested in the scientific investigation process.”


However, it was her tenth-grade chemistry teacher who helped her to realize that the chemistry behind forensics was what interested her the most. Saunders loved the teacher’s enthusiasm and had a great time in his class. Later in high school, Saunders even had a chance to design her own experiments, which gave her the foundation for the work she’s doing now. “It was kind of like an office hours relationship, which is rare in high school,” she explains, “he really helped me dig into chemistry.”


So, when it came time to think about college, Saunders knew that she wanted to keep studying chemistry. She researched programs around the country and eventually decided that Penn State was the school for her.


Although academics were important to her, it wasn’t just the top-notch chemistry and forensic programs that drew Saunders to the university. She was impressed by the campus and the resources that were available to her, like the Millennium Scholar Program—a scholarship program designed to prepare a diverse cohort of students to be leaders in STEM disciplines.


The Penn State culture also made an impression on her. “It’s an encouraging environment,” she says, “it really fosters creativity.”


After starting classes, Saunders decided not to pursue her interest in forensic science and focus on chemistry instead. She has created an academic home within the Department of Chemistry, conducting research, presenting a poster at the Eberly College of Science Research Symposium, getting involved with student organizations, and even gaining experience as a tutor.


Saunders says that enthusiasm is what makes the Chemistry Program at Penn State special. “The faculty love their jobs,” she explains, “they really want to help you learn.”


The wide variety of research being conducted within the department also appealed to her. “No matter what you’re interested in,” she explains, “there’s probably a faculty member doing research in that area.”


Saunders found her own niche in Dr. Lauren Zarzar’s lab, where she’s currently conducting research. According to Saunders, working with Dr. Zarzar and her group has been one of her favorite experiences at Penn State. Saunders is currently researching properties of oil-oil emulsions with Dr. Zarzar and even published a paper with her research group. “It’s really great to get into lab and think out experiments and solve problems,” she says, “creating something new is exciting.”


In her free time, Saunders loves to indulge her passion for music. She plays the piano, ukulele, and flute, and she enjoys singing on campus with Essence of Joy, an African and African American traditions choir.


Although she’s not sure what her future career may bring, Saunders is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Analytical Chemistry after graduation.


“There are lots of resources here,” she says when asked what advice she has for future Penn-Staters, “take advantage of what PSU has to offer.”


Olivia Kuzio (‘17) Discovers the Art in Chemistry

Olivia Kuzio (‘17) Discovers the Art in Chemistry

Olivia Kuzio—who earned her BS in chemistry in 2017—didn’t start her undergraduate degree at Penn State. “I chose to transfer to Penn State halfway through my freshman year at another university, where I was having a tough time feeling like I was just a number,” she explains. As it turned out, coming to Penn State was one of the best decisions she ever made.


During her first year as an undergraduate, Kuzio took an elective that changed her way of looking at the world—literally. “I took an art history elective and fell in love with the subject,” Kuzio explains, “because I knew I still wanted to continue pursuing my degree in chemistry, I was determined to find a way to study the intersection of science and the arts.”


Fortunately, Kuzio found that the faculty of the Department of Chemistry at Penn State were ready and willing to support her goal. “The faculty are accessible and happy to support diverse interests,” says Kuzio, “I found, especially, that their willingness to build collaborations across the university and beyond made virtually any endeavor, whether academic or research related, attainable and exciting.”


Thanks to her knowledgeable advisors, Kuzio was able to get involved in research projects across the University, including in the Department of Food Science, and the Preservation, Conservation, and Digitization Department of the University libraries. Kuzio says that these projects helped her map out her post-graduation path. “It was through these experiences that I was able to...apply what I was learning in the classroom to problems that captured my interest, and to guide the development of my passion and define my direction for graduate studies,” she says.


Today, Kuzio is combining her passions for art and chemistry at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she is pursuing a PhD in Color Science and an MS in Chemistry. Color science is a multidisciplinary field that investigates how color is created and perceived; it’s important in the manufacture of items like paints, plastics, textiles and cameras. It’s also applicable to conservation science, which attracted Kuzio’s interest. Her color research deals with scientific imaging of cultural heritage materials, like photographs and paintings.


Kuzio is currently a graduate research assistant under the supervision of Dr. Roy Berns in the Studio for Scientific Imaging and Archiving Cultural Heritage at RIT. She says that her work with the lab “has quite literally offered me a new lens through which to approach the study of cultural heritage objects.” She is currently working on a project that focuses on total appearance imaging of paintings for the capture of color, spectral, texture, and shape information.


She put her research into action last summer with an internship at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, where she studied the fading kinetics of the dyes in chromogenic photographs. Kuzio helped develop a method for correlating the color change observed under museum gallery lighting versus under an accelerated fading technique called “microfadeometry.” “Photographic prints in general are light sensitive materials,” she explains, “so it's important to quantify and understand the limits of light exposure that they can withstand before noticeable fading and other color changes can occur.”


Kuzio says that her work exemplifies why she became interested in combining art and science to begin with. “I have realized… [why] I was drawn to conservation science in the first place,” she explains, “the beauty of the objects and the utility of what we can learn from them.”


Kuzio’s time at Penn State formed the academic foundation for the work she’s doing now, but it wasn’t the only thing she took away from her time at Penn State. Kuzio developed friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime. “There was an all-in-this-together attitude in our classes and labs,” she says of her fellow chemistry majors, “It was really special to attend the department commencement celebration with the forty or so peers with whom I graduated, because it was especially evident then that we hadn’t just shared our academics—we’d grown together as colleagues and friends.”


In her free time, Kuzio enjoys running— a habit she picked up while attending Penn State. Kuzio says that running helps to relieve stress, and she tries to train for a few half marathons each year.

Bevilacqua Group and Keating Group Explore Early Earth Chemistry

Bevilacqua Group and Keating Group Explore Early Earth Chemistry

The Bevilacqua group, in collaboration with the Keating group, recently published a paper exploring the origin of life on Earth in what is referred to as the prebiotic “RNA world." The researchers examined how Membraneless assemblies of positively- and negatively-charged molecules can bring together RNA molecules in dense liquid droplets, allowing the RNAs to participate in fundamental chemical reactions. Read more here!

Ayusman Sen Develops New Method to Control Fluid Flow and Organize Particles

Sen StoryDistinguished Professor of Chemistry Ayusman Sen recently developed a new, simple, and inexpensive method that uses ultraviolet light to control particle motion and assembly within liquids could improve drug delivery, chemical sensors, and fluid pumps. Read the full story here!

Department Members Recognized for Commitment to Diversity

Department Members Recognized for Commitment to Diversity

Four members of the Department of Chemistry were recently recognized for their commitment to creating an environment of mutual respect and diversity within the Eberly College of Science. Dr. Sheryl Dykstra, Dr. Raymond Schaak, Dr. Miriam Freedman, and Ms. Connie Smith were honored for their work at the Dean's Climate and Diversity Award ceremony. The award was created in 2009 to highlight members of the ECoS community who contribute to a climate of respect and inclusivity within the college. Each of the four honorees received a certificate in recognition of their hard work, which is part of the Chemistry Department’s ongoing efforts to build a welcoming environment for all faculty, staff, and students.  


Dr. Dykstra, who is an associate teaching professor, was nominated for the award for going above and beyond to create a positive and comfortable environment for students from all backgrounds. Although she holds students accountable for their academic progress within their courses, she is well known for the understanding and empathy she shows toward students who are facing unique challenges and for showing sensitivity to those who require special accommodations. As her nominator notes, “Her office is also inviting—always open to chat with staff, faculty or students… I really like that she displays the ‘Be Kind, Be Inclusive’ sticker in her office window...Something so small and simple (like this sticker) can speak volumes to those who are feel singled out, alone and even hurting.” 


Dr. Schaak, who is the DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry, was nominated for his efforts in cultivating a diverse pool of applicants for faculty positions within the department. As the head of the faculty search committee, Dr. Schaak ensures that candidates are treated with respect and courtesy during interviews and visits; as his nominator wrote, “Ray has paved the way for positive climate and diversity in searches.” His hard work is not going unnoticed either. Some candidates have even written to thank him for making the recruitment process inclusive and welcoming.


Dr. Freedman was recognized for her work as the associate department head for climate and diversity. She also heads the departmental committee on climate and diversity, works with the colloquium committee to enhance gender and racial diversity, and is the department’s STRIDE representative. Dr. Freedman advocates tirelessly for greater diversity within the department by educating faculty members about implicit bias and working with the faculty search committee to vet applications to assure diversity.  Her nominator noted “Miriam has established a positive atmosphere for climate inclusivity with graduate students and postdocs within the department, as well as the faculty. We are very fortunate to have her leadership.”


Ms. Smith was recognized for her role in advocating for a positive climate for staff within the department. As lead research staff assistant, Ms. Smith oversees the three other research staff assistants, and is diligent in bringing climate issues that impact staff to the attention of the department head. As her nominator notes, “Connie is a leader in making clear climate issues with her research staff assistants. She also makes suggestions how we as faculty can better interact with and thus help retain our staff.” Ms. Smith’s efforts have helped to create an environment that is comfortable and welcoming for both faculty and staff.


Every day, faculty and staff in the department strive to create an inclusive atmosphere that promotes cooperation and tolerance. The efforts of dedicated department members like Dr. Dykstra, Dr. Schaak, Dr. Freedman, and Ms. Smith go a long way to ensuring that everyone can find an academic home within the Department of Chemistry.


You can learn more about the department’s commitment to diversity here.

Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

Ramesh Giri Joins Faculty of Department of Chemistry

Ramesh Giri Joins Faculty of Department of Chemistry

The Penn State Department of Chemistry is excited to announce that Professor Ramesh Giri will be joining the department faculty starting July 1, 2019 as the Weinreb Early Career Professor.


Dr. Giri earned a B.S. and an M.S. from Tribhuvan University in Nepal, an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, and a Ph.D. from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. He comes to Penn State from the University of New Mexico (UNM), where he is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.


Dr. Philip Bevilacqua, head of the Department of Chemistry, said “We are thrilled to have Ramesh Giri join our faculty.  He is a rising star in the field of synthetic organic chemistry.  Ramesh has pioneered novel directions in cross-coupling methodologies using copper and nickel.  He has a keen intellect and ability to identify unsolved problems in the field.”


The Giri research group is particularly interested in identifying and solving chemical problems that have broad impacts in the areas of energy, materials, and health. Their work has the potential to revolutionize the way scientists produce complex molecules by making the production of such molecules cheaper and faster, and more efficient. Over the last six years at UNM, the Giri research group has been working to develop more sustainable processes for creating these molecules. The group has developed innovative strategies that make it possible for scientists to form more than one bond at a time when manufacturing the molecules while using sustainable and cost-effective first row transition metals (Fe, Co, Ni, and Cu).


Dr. Giri’s work has the potential to impact the production of many different materials, including pharmaceutical drugs. In the long term, his research could help lower the cost of these drugs to consumers by making production quicker and more cost-effective for pharmaceutical companies. So far, the group’s work has yielded many exciting results, including a new process that allows for synthetic modifications of two commercial drugs.


Dr. Giri is looking forward to continuing this groundbreaking research at Penn State. “Our long-term goal is to change the way people make complex molecules,” Dr. Giri said of his group’s future work at Penn State.


While at UNM, Dr. Giri also started an outreach program through his lab to encourage underrepresented high school students to pursue careers in STEM fields. Inspired by Dr. Giri’s own experiences of growing up in a rural area of Nepal, the program was designed to motivate students to go to college and begin preparing them for careers in the sciences. Dr. Giri noted that many of the student’s parents never even completed high school, making it all the more important to show them what a career in the sciences could look like. Dr. Giri is eager to start a similar program through his lab at Penn State.


Dr. Giri is looking forward to working with the other faculty members within the department and joining the Penn State community. “The collaborative environment is one of the things that drove me to come here,” Dr. Giri said when asked what attracted him to Penn State. “Ramesh has the right combination of excellence in research and natural leadership to help Penn State Chemistry continue its tradition of excellence in Organic Chemistry”, added Dr. Bevilacqua.


Please join the Department of Chemistry in welcoming Dr. Giri to Penn State.



Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

Lauren Zarzar awarded an Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers grant.

Lauren Zarzar awarded an Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers grant.

Lauren Zarzar, assistant professor of chemistry, has been awarded a five-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Army to conduct research related to reconfigurable fluids. Read full story here.

Alum Donates Piece of History to the Department of Chemistry

Alum Donates Piece of History to the Department of Chemistry

A piece of Penn State history recently found a home in the Department of Chemistry. Alum Roy L. Schuyler donated a copy of Frank C. Whitmore’s groundbreaking 1937 textbook, Organic Chemistry to the department. The book, which contains a signed photo by the author himself, is a classic chemistry text, and its publication was of one of Whitmore’s many accomplishments while teaching and working at Penn State.

After serving as the head of the chemistry department at Northwestern University, Whitmore—a prominent chemist—came to Penn State in 1929 at the invitation of Gerald Wendt, dean of the School of Chemistry and Physics. After Wendt’s departure later that year, Whitmore became the dean and went on to teach and conduct research at the University from 1929 until the end of his life in 1947. During his time at Penn State, he mentored generations of young scientists, directing 118 Ph.D. students and developing a reputation as an inspirational leader. He was well-known for advising former students on personal and professional problems and for his commitment to helping his students succeed. Famously, he began each class he taught by asking students to write him a letter about why they were taking the course and what they hoped to take away from it. He then wrote a multi-page response to each student.

Today, Whitmore is best-known for developing the concept of a carbocation in 1932 and providing the first explanation of carbocation rearrangements. His research helped scientists make advancements in many areas, including understanding how cholesterol operates within the human body and developing a process to make higher octane gasoline. For his achievements, Whitmore was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and later served as the President of the American Chemical Society. Upon his death, the ACS passed a resolution calling his contribution to science “immeasurable.”

Whitmore’s landmark text, Organic Chemistry, was first published in 1937, and was one of the most important organic chemistry textbooks of its time.  

The signed copy generously donated by Schuyler belonged to Schuyler’s mother, Delcena Crabtree Schuyler. Aside from the significance of the book, Crabtree Schuyler herself represents an important chapter of Penn State history. As her son notes, she was “an academic pioneer.” She came to Penn State in 1933 to earn a Master’s Degree while working under the celebrated chemist Mary Louisa Willard and continued on as a Ph.D. student. In 1937, Crabtree Schuyler became one of the first women to be awarded a Ph.D. in Chemistry by Penn State, and likely the first with a specialization in organic chemistry. While studying as an undergraduate at Wilson College, she helped Whitmore with work on his book and is even acknowledged in the book’s preface for her help in “the arduous task of sorting the forty-nine thousand index slips.”

After graduation, Crabtree Schuyler joined Standard Oil of New Jersey and was transferred to the firm's headquarters in NY a year later, where she translated scientific journals from German to English. She remained involved in academia throughout her life as a member of the American Association of University Women. Her important contributions to the field of chemistry are remembered by her family and the Penn State community.

Penn State also remembers Whitmore’s contributions to science with Whitmore Laboratory, which was named in his honor. Although the building was constructed in the 1953, it recently underwent major renovations to update the building’s aging and insufficient facilities, transforming it into a state-of-the-art facility. The laboratory is home to chemistry labs for undergraduate introductory and advanced studies and serves approximately 7,000 students a year. The renovation ensures that future generations of Penn State scientists will be able to continue making important and innovative discoveries, just as Whitmore did.

The Department of Chemistry thanks Roy Schuyler for his generosity and is excited to provide a home for such an important piece of Penn State history. Not only does the donation bring to mind the accomplishments of pioneers like Crabtree Schuyler and Whitmore, it represents the department’s long tradition of excellence and continuing commitment to innovation.


Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

Chemistry Department Holiday Reception!

Chemistry Department Holiday Reception!

The Annual Chemistry Department Holiday Reception was held November 28th!

See pics of all the festivities HERE!

Research from the Bevilacqua Lab in Chemistry and Assmann Lab in Biology describes how RNA helps plants perceive heat.

Research from the Bevilacqua Lab in Chemistry and Assmann Lab in Biology describes how RNA helps plants perceive heat.

The stress of hotter temperatures may trigger a response in a plant's RNA, or ribonucleic acid — part of a cell's genetic messaging system — to help manage this change in its environment, according to a team of Penn State researchers including the Bevilacqua Lab. Read Full Story at PennState News.

Organic Chemistry Lab Teaching Assistants Receive $4000 Awards

Each semester the Chemistry Department offers a $4,000 award to graduate students on Teaching Assistantships for innovation in teaching. In order to be considered, the student must have completed a minimum of two semesters of Teaching Assistant work and submit a letter of interest, a resume, and a proposal describing an innovation for a course with support of a faculty member. The selected recipients not only receive the $4,000 stipend, but also have the opportunity to implement their proposal in the course they are assigned to teach.

Two of the recipients for the Fall 2018 semester were Jacob Piane and Varun Mandalaparthy, Teaching Assistants (TAs) for Organic Chemistry Lab (Chem 213W). Jake and Varun have been teaching Chem 213W since August 2017. Both were able to use their experience to formulate ideas that have had a positive influence on the course.

Jake proposed the implementation of supplemental workshops to reinforce important concepts related to tasks completed during the lab period. With students being encouraged to explore key concepts on their own before labs, Jake felt as though the brief prelab talks weren’t always enough to drive home key concepts. Jake had already been experimenting with workshops in unused course time to combat this issue and decided to officially propose the idea.

Jake has already seen the impact of these new reviews. “I have definitely noticed that the reviews have helped with writing lab reports. They are missing far fewer concepts on their reports than they did before.”

Varun was motivated to apply when he noticed that students did not consistently have an adequate understanding of Organic Chemistry mechanisms.  “I frequently observed that my students were struggling to understand how to draw mechanisms and quite often resorting to putting something down without really comprehending where it came from.”

After discussing the issue with Dr. Dykstra, the faculty member in charge of Chem 213W, the two came to the conclusion that utilizing Canvas would be the best way to combat this issue.  Thanks to his proposal, modules to address specific pre-lab questions have been moved to Canvas and now explicitly cover mechanisms. There are additional plans to add an extra credit module to help provide students with an overview of nomenclature.

These modules have gone a long way toward improving student understanding of nomenclature. In an anonymous poll of Varun’s Chem213W section of 13 people he received “resoundingly positive feedback” on the modules. In the final portion of the course students write their own mechanisms and Varun believes the changes will make their greatest impact then.

Both Jake and Varun felt as though the experience was rewarding and well worth the time they invested.

“It was definitely worth it. For obvious reasons the money was worth it, but the students understanding the concepts is the most important part” - Jake

“It was definitely worth the effort to be able to see that direct and immediate an impact. I have never done anything that was immediately pushed out to students and it has given me a lot of perspective on how designing a course works.” - Varun

This award is a great opportunity which rewards TAs with innovative ideas and helps the Chemistry Department continue to offer the best experience possible to its students. Applications for the Spring 2019 awards are still being accepted until Friday November 19th. Applications should be submitted to Lacy Miller ( and any questions about the continuing graduate fellowships should be directed to Joe Keiser (

Adam Warfield | November 12, 2018

2018-2019 Continuing Graduate Awards

The Graduate Student Awards Committee is pleased to announce the outcome of this year’s competition for the Continuing Graduate Student Awards.  This year the following students will receive awards from the Eberly College of Science:

Lucas Alameda (Schaak Lab)

Matthew Fares (Zhang Lab)

Yue Gao (Mallouk Lab)

Suprita Jharimune (Rioux Lab)

Eric Kennehan (Asbury Lab)

Kathryn Lebold (Noid Lab)

Kyle Messina (Bevilacqua Lab)

Laura Ritchey (Bevilacqua Lab)

Benjamin Steimle (Schaak Lab)

Simou Sun (Cremer Lab)

Please join us in congratulating these students on their outstanding performances.



Collaboration, chemistry, and the competitive edge (ECoS Science Journal)

Collaboration, chemistry, and the competitive edge (ECoS Science Journal)

Dan Sykes partners with industry to give his students a leg up in the workforce


Dan Sykes is the associate head for undergraduate education and the director of the analytical instructional laboratories in the Department of Chemistry at Penn State. Over the years, Sykes and his students have worked with a number of companies in a variety of industries, yet he doesn’t make any money for his efforts and he doesn’t own any resulting intellectual property. The goal, he says, is to give the students experience.

Read full ECoS Science Journal article:

Asbury Group: "Shake, Rattle, and Roll to High Efficiency Photovoltaics"

Asbury Group: "Shake, Rattle, and Roll to High Efficiency Photovoltaics"

Using ultrafast infrared imaging techniques, a team of researchers from Penn State has revealed that the remarkable electronic properties of halide perovskite photovoltaic materials properties arise from large-scale motion of atoms in their crystalline lattice.

New insight into how a certain class of photovoltaic materials allows efficient conversion of sunlight into electricity could position these materials to replace traditional silicon solar cells. A study by researchers at Penn State reveals the unique properties of these inexpensive and quick-to-produce halide perovskites, information that will guide the development of next generation solar cells. The study appears September 27 in the journal Chem.

Full Press Release:

Read the original study, titled “Dynamic Disorder Dominates Delocalization, Transport and Recombination in Halide Perovskites” here:

Joey Cotruvo awarded Kaufman New Investigator Grant

Joey Cotruvo awarded Kaufman New Investigator Grant

Congratulations to Joey Cotruvo for being awarded a New Investigator grant from the Kaufman Foundation. This award supports the Cotruvo lab’s efforts to investigate metal ion homeostasis in pathogenic bacteria through fluorescent sensing. Read more:

Ed O’Brien receives The OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award

Ed O’Brien receives The OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award

Ed O’Brien received The OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in Computational Chemistry from the American Chemical Society.  Ed is being recognized for his outstanding work in “Origins of the mechanochemical coupling of peptide bond formation to protein synthesis.” (click for more details)

Mary Jo Bojan receives 25-Year Award

Mary Jo Bojan receives 25-Year Award

Congratulations and thank you to Mary Jo Bojan on 25 years of service to Penn State University.

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