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Squire Booker elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Squire Booker elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Squire J. Booker, professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Jonathan Eaton, distinguished professor of economics, was also elected from Penn State.

The American Academy, one of the nation’s oldest honorary societies, is an independent policy research center with members from a wide range of disciplines. Members contribute to academy publications and studies of science and technology policy; global security and international affairs; the humanities, arts and education; and American institutions and the public good.

Booker’s main research interests include deciphering the molecular details by which enzymes — a special class of proteins — catalyze reactions in the cell. He then uses the insight gained to manipulate these reactions for various objectives, ranging from the production of biofuels to the development of antibacterial agents. His laboratory garnered international attention for elucidating a pathway by which disease-causing bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus evade entire classes of commonly used antibiotics. These results were published in three papers in the journal Science, a paper in Nature Chemical Biology, and two papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. He is particularly well known for his research on enzymes employing extremely reactive molecules, known as free radicals, to catalyze their reactions.

In 2016, Booker received the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal, which recognizes scholarly or creative excellence through contributions around a coherent theme. In 2015, he was named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a science philanthropy organization dedicated to advancing biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. In 2014, Booker was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science. In 2011, he was honored with an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award by the American Chemical Society. The award, which consists of a monetary prize and an unrestricted research grant is given "to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry."

In 2004, Booker was recognized as one of 57 of the country's most promising scientists and engineers by President George W. Bush with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He received the award at the White House in recognition of his research on enzyme reactions, including his work on an enzyme involved in the synthesis of unusual fatty acids that are needed by the bacteria responsible for most cases of tuberculosis. In 2002, he received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, the agency's most prestigious award for new faculty members.

Booker has mentored 17 graduate students, over 40 undergraduate students, 15 postdoctoral associates and research scientists, and two high-school students. He is known for encouraging students in underrepresented groups to consider science-based careers. Booker has published over 80 scientific papers in journals such as Science, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and he has served as guest editor for Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, Biochimica Biophysica Acta, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

He is past-chair of the Minority Affairs Committee of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and was co-organizer of the society's 2016 annual meeting. He has delivered well over 100 lectures at universities and international meetings on his research, including several keynote lectures, such as the Lloyd N. Ferguson Distinguished Lectures at California State University, Los Angeles; the inaugural Diversity in Chemistry Initiative Lecture at the California Institute of Technology; the Scott Lecture at the University of Florida; the inaugural Diversity Lectures at Duke University; the Everson Lecture at the University of Wisconsin; and the TY Shen Lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Booker earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Austin College in 1987, where he was a Minnie Stevens Piper Scholar, and a doctoral degree in biochemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. That same year he was awarded a National Science Foundation–NATO Fellowship for postdoctoral studies at Université Rene Décartes in Paris, France. Later, in 1996, he was awarded a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship for studies at the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1999.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 7 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Christine Keating Receives 2017 Faculty Scholar Medal

Christine Keating Receives 2017 Faculty Scholar Medal

Christine Keating has been awarded the 2017 Faculty Scholar Medal in Life and Health Sciences. Established in 1980, the award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. A committee of peers reviews nominations and selects candidates.

As posted on Penn State News:

Through her research, Keating has shown how the fundamental molecules of life (proteins, nucleic acids, membranes, etc.) can spontaneously organize into enclosures with many of the properties of living cells. To build on this discovery, Keating shows how these cell mimics can undergo the equivalent of cell division. Keatings cell mimic work was also used to show that subcellular compartmentalization increases catalysis by an RNA enzyme and that phosphorylation of peptides bound to RNA can regulate the formation of non-membrane bound compartments within cells.

These discoveries increase our understanding of how a cell is organized and how processes critical for life depend on subcellular compartmentalization.

“This research on nonliving cell mimics provides new insight into the physical principles that determine the biological functions of living cells, and into one of the most outstanding questions of all science, which is how life began,” said a nominator and colleague.

Fundamental insights from Keating’s research on artificial cells are defining the possible ways in which the earliest cells (so-called “protocells”) could have emerged to replicate genetic materials and the cells themselves. These breakthroughs have led her to attain funding from NASA and her research group is building on protocell development and maintenance of biological functions.

Nominators describe Keating as “a stellar chemist with unparalleled expertise” who is blazing new trails with “new and exciting dimensions of chemistry.”

Past winners of the Faculty Scholar Medal from the Department of Chemistry include Squire Booker (2016), Mauricio Terrones (2016), John Badding (2015), Ray Schaak (2012), Phil Bevilacqua (2010), Marty Bollinger (2009), Ayusman Sen (2003), Xumu Zhang (2001), Wolfgang Ernst (1998), Andrew Ewing (1994), James Anderson (1992), Barbara Garrison (1990), and Nicholas Winograd (1985).

Ed O'Brien Selected for 2016 Priestly Teaching Prize

Ed O'Brien Selected for 2016 Priestly Teaching Prize

Congratulations to Ed O'Brien, the 2016 recipient of the Priestly Teaching Prize for his outstanding teaching accomplishments. The Priestley Prize is awarded annually to a faculty member in the Chemistry Department at University Park for excellence in undergraduate chemistry instruction as measured by the increase in learning and enthusiasm for the subject.

Chemistry Graduate Students Named NSF Graduate Fellows

Chemistry Graduate Students Named NSF Graduate Fellows

Chemistry graduate students Joseph Dawson, Jennifer Miller, and Kyle Munson have been named National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows. Honorable mentions were received by Kyra Murrell and Alyssa Rosas. Congratulations to all five students for their outstanding achievements.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is the country’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Since 1952, NSF has funded over 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants.  Currently, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences.  In addition, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program has a high rate of doctorate degree completion, with more than 70 percent of students completing their doctorates within 11 years.

Julie Fenton selected to participate in 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Julie Fenton selected to participate in 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Congratulations to chemistry graduate student Julie Fenton for being selected to participate in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting at Lake Constance in Germany. Full article on ECOS' website:

Harry Allcock to receive international polymer award.

Harry Allcock to receive international polymer award.

Harry Allcock has been chosen to receive the 2017 International Award from the Polymer Society of Japan.  He will present a lecture and receive the award at a ceremony to be held near Tokyo in May.

Lasse Jensen Wins ACS 2017 Early-Career Award

Lasse Jensen Wins ACS 2017 Early-Career Award

Congratulations to Lasse Jensen, the recipient of the 2017 Early-Career Award in Theoretical Chemistry from The American Chemical Society. The Physical Chemistry Division of ACS annually sponsors senior and early-career awards in theoretical and experimental physical chemistry that are intended to recognize the most outstanding scientific achievements of members of the Division. This award recognizes Lasse's outstanding work on the development of quantum mechanical models for understanding surface-enhanced Raman scattering. The 2017 recipients will be honored at the the Fall ACS National Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Stephen Aro Awarded ASSL Student Outstanding Oral Prize

Stephen Aro Awarded ASSL Student Outstanding Oral Prize

The Advanced Solid State Lasers Conference held a student presentation award contest and Stephen Aro was selected to receive an award for his oral presentation, Cr 2+:ZnSe Fiber Lasers.

The Advanced Solid State Lasers Conference (ASSL) highlights new sources, advanced technologies, components and system design to improve the operation and application of solid state lasers. It covers the spectrum of solid state lasers from materials research to applied science and design innovations. This international meeting is highly selective in reviewing paper submissions for oral presentation and uses a single track format to ensure all attendees have the opportunity to listen to all talks.

Sheryl Dykstra Receives C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching

Sheryl Dykstra Receives C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching

The C. I. Noll Award is sponsored by the Eberly College of Science Alumni Society, and is presented annually to an outstanding faculty member within the college. The award is designed to recognize a faculty member who has taken a special interest in students, and who, through their interactions, has had a positive impact on them. Sheryl has been teaching our mainstream organic chemistry lab course for many years now as well as teaching CHEM 112 & CHEM 202. The selection committee for the award consists of students from the Science LionPRIDE and Sheryl's selection reflects the outstanding work she has been doing in these courses and in advising undergraduates from many different disciplines. Congratulations to Sheryl for this well-deserved honor.

2015-2016 Chemistry Graduate Student Teaching Awards

Valerie Alstadt, Patrick Corrigan, Chad Drexler, Julie Fenton, James Gumkowski, He Liu, Kyle Munson, and Pedro Rivera Pomales are this year's recipients of the Chemistry Graduate Student Teaching Awards.

Previously this award was collectively known as the Dan H. Waugh Memorial Teaching Award established by the family and friends of Dan Waugh, a former chemistry graduate student at Penn State. The larger, collective title, which continues to include the Waugh Award, now utilizes various endowments to make these awards possible.

The Awards Committee also recognized Esther Chong and Jingjing Shi this year’s recipients of the Chemistry Graduate Student Teaching Awards, Honorable Mention.

These awards are presented annually to chemistry graduate students who have demonstrated superior dedication and ability in fulfilling their instructional responsibilities as reflected in both faculty and student evaluations. Congratulation to these graduate students for their outstanding work.

Professor Bevilacqua's classroom methods featured on

Professor Bevilacqua's classroom methods featured on

Professor Philip Bevilacqua is the focus of a featured story on Bevilacqua strives to engage his honors chemistry students through various means, including an approach he describes as a "partially flipped" classroom. Read story.

Phil Stemple wins the George Gilbert Pond Award for Excellence in Support of Undergraduate Education

Phil Stemple wins the George Gilbert Pond Award for Excellence in Support of Undergraduate Education

Phil Stemple has been selected to receive this year's George Gilbert Pond Award for Excellence in Support of Undergraduate Education.  Phil will receive the award at the November 30 holiday awards reception.

Phil has been with the department for ten years as our lecture prep specialist.  In addition to providing demonstration support for our large lecture courses and for special outreach events, Phil has put a huge amount of creativity, time, and energy into developing new demonstrations, improving existing ones, and training faculty and TA's to carry out demonstrations effectively and safely.  Phil's efforts have provided the secret sauce that not only helps make our lecture classes informative and fun, but also promotes a climate of excellence in instruction in our department. Thank you Phil for all that you do for Chemistry at Penn State!

Whitmore Lab’s New Multi-Purpose Room (MPR) in Action

As part of the recent $34M renovation of Whitmore Lab a new Multi-Purpose Room (MPR) was added to the first floor. The MPR is ~1300 square feet in size.  It has a flexible design which enables it to function as a space for lab lectures, projects, and prep work.  The desks in this room have wheels, are height adjustable, and they have the same resin tops as lab benches.  As a result, the MPR can quickly be changed between a variety of formats.  A $300k broadcast system makes it possibly to deliver lab lectures and equipment demonstrations to any of the ten teaching labs on the first floor of Whitmore, and in principle, to anywhere in the world.

In one of the photos below, Dr. Kyle Schmid delivers a Chem 111 lab lecture in the MPR which was broadcast live to nine other labs (10/5/16).  Within 15 minutes of the completion of Kyle’s lecture, the MPR was reconfigured, and John DeCaro was at work on his Honor’s thesis project (photo below).

We expect the MPR to support a wide variety of lab activities in the years to come.

2016 Chemistry Department Newsletter

In this issue: A Letter from the Department Head, New Faculty Spotlights, Whitmore Laboratory Undergoes Major Renovations, Two Chemistry Faculty Members Receive 2016 Faculty Scholars Medals, 50 Years at Penn State: Steve and Pat Benkovic and Harry and Noreen Allcock, Collaboration Leads to Great Achievement: Amie Boal and Squire Booker, Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award Given for First Time, Interview with a Chemistry Student: Erica Frankel, From the Ground Up: Founding the Chemistry GSA, Freedman Group Makes Outreach Activities a Priority, 2015-2016 Awards, 2015-2016 Donors, Alumni News

Bevilacqua among researchers awarded New Initiatives grant from Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

Paul Babitzke, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; Sarah Assmann, Waller Professor of Biology; and Philip Bevilacqua, professor of chemistry, have received a $300,000 New Initiatives grant from the Foundation to study RNA and the processes it regulates. Full story at

Whitmore Laboratory Undergoes Major Renovation

Chemistry undergraduate students walked into a brand new building this fall, even though it was built in 1953.

Whitmore Laboratory had been undergoing a complete renovation over the last few years, with the final product ready to use for classes this August.

Reasons for the renovation included the sheer age of the building and the shape and functionality of the labs.

The goal of the renovation was to enable the building to function for at least the next 40 years. The focus was on flexibility. This will allow for the building to remain relevant even as procedural and technological changes take place in the future. Contractors incorporated movable desks and flexible utility arrangements, for example.

Other features include air conditioning; new air handlers; a lab exhaust system; and new windows, heat, and ventilation, including a ventilated chemical storage room. Aside from the safety updates, aesthetic updates were also incorporated throughout the building (e.g. paint, flooring, layout, etc.). Renovations occurred in parts of all four floors (see pictures).

The second floor underwent a major redesign of all of the rooms the students use throughout the year.  There are now two dedicated spaces for the organic chemistry lab courses: one large room that houses CHEM 203 and 213W and  two adjoining rooms that accommodate CHEM 213M and 431W.  The CHEM 203/213W space's layout now consists of eight "bays" which accommodate up to 128 students at one time (16 students in each section).  Each bay has been designed to give each instructor complete view of all 16 students residing at one time - a significant improvement from the prior layout.

Thanks to the efficient organization of the stockroom staff, all community items are now located in the lab as opposed to in the stockroom, thus lessening the amount of foot traffic in and out of the lab.  The new CHEM 213M/431W spaces include a large lab room that can house a total of 32 students and has been outfitted to resemble a graduate-level lab.  The adjoining room contains four rotovaps, additional hoods for research students, and a microwave synthesizer.  The second floor also includes a newly designed Instrument Room with an adjoining working area that all organic chemistry lab students are required to use.

The department’s undergraduate faculty and staff offices are located in Whitmore Laboratory and also underwent a complete renovation. The new undergraduate program office received upgrades including a welcoming reception area for visiting students, a private testing area for student make-up exams, and brand-new staff offices. In addition to the updated labs, the undergraduate faculty members also benefited from new offices and conference rooms.

Over 2,000 undergraduate students occupy Whitmore Laboratory each week, primarily for laboratory instruction.

Larry Johns, the department’s Building Manager, looks forward to the safety and flexibility aspects that the renovated building will provide. His primary role in the project was to coordinate communication among all involved parties, especially important when renovating an occupied building.

Barton Malow Company was the primary contractor involved in the project.

Chem 111 Students in General Chemistry Lab

Chem 213W Students in Organic Chemistry Lab

Chemistry Teaching Assistants tutoring during office hours

New Faculty Spotlights

Joseph Cotruvo, Jr.

Joseph Cotruvo, Jr. joined the department as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry in July 2016.  His group is interested in using chemical biology and biochemistry to investigate nutrient dynamics in living cells, in particular the biology of transition metals.  Transition metals are used by half of all proteins and catalyze some of the most difficult and important reactions in biology.  The Cotruvo lab aims to develop new tools to image metal ions in cells and – using these tools in combination with biochemical, biophysical, and cell biology techniques – to discover new cellular pathways, study them, and ultimately manipulate them for the benefit of society.  For example, his group is interested in how pathogenic bacteria acquire the nutrients, such as transition metals, that they need to survive and proliferate in the host.  Being able to directly visualize metals in both the host organism and the pathogen will enable a better understanding of the host and pathogen factors affecting metal dynamics over the course of infection.  These results will illuminate new targets for therapeutic intervention in an array of microbial infections.  Prior to joining the Penn State faculty, Cotruvo was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley with Prof. Christopher Chang, and he earned his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012 under the guidance of Prof. JoAnne Stubbe.  He graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. in Chemistry from Princeton University in 2006.  His honors include a Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.  At Penn State, he will be the Louis Martarano Early Career Professor.

Aaron Garner

Aaron Garner joined the department in August 2016 as a Lecturer. He received B.S. degrees in Chemistry, Biological Sciences, and Botany from North Carolina State University and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. As a graduate student, Aaron worked with Prof. Daniel Kahne and studied the oxidative assembly pathway of the outer membrane portion of the Gram negative lipopolysaccharide translocon LptD/E and determined the X-ray crystal structure of the E. coli LptD/E complex. Passionate about undergraduate education, Aaron has served for the past two years as a preceptor (teaching faculty) in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University where he primarily taught Life Sciences 1a, an introductory course for STEM majors that integrates principles from general chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology.

Joseph Houck

Joseph Houck joined the department in August 2016 as a Lecturer. He is a Central PA native; raised on a dairy farm in Seven Stars.  He attended Juniata College where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry with a secondary emphasis in Education.   After graduation, he worked for Dr. Timothy Macdonald at the University of Virginia on the design, synthesis, and evaluation of sphingosine kinase inhibitors for their use as a targeted cancer therapy.  He received his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2013.  For the past three years, Joe has been a Lecturer at the University of Maryland, College Park.  He has taught general and organic chemistry lectures and labs.  In 2015, he was awarded the Dean's Outstanding Lecturer Award and received a fellowship for course redesign to increase student engagement by implementing the use of electronic laboratory notebooks.  Since working with Science in Motion in college, Joe has maintained an interest in science outreach by bringing hands-on science activities to local elementary schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other public events.  Joe is looking forward to moving "home" and enjoys spending time with his family including his wife, Emma, and 8-month-old son, Lewis.

Gerald Knizia

Gerald Knizia joined the department in 2015 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. His research interests focus on theoretical chemistry. In synthetic chemistry, progress is often hampered by the difficulty of performing meaningful theoretical calculations. Knizia aims to rectify this situation by researching simpler and better computational methods for finding, characterizing, and understanding reaction mechanisms. In pursuit of this goal, the main focus is the development of a practical, real-world technique for predicting reaction mechanisms ex nihilo, based on modern machine learning algorithms combined with tailored quantum mechanical methods. Other efforts include the continued development of both quantitative and interpretive electronic structure methods, at both the density functional and wave function level; these novel methods are distributed in the widely used Molpro quantum chemistry package, of which Knizia is one of the main authors. Before joining the faculty at Penn State, Knizia held appointments as a junior group leader at the University of Stuttgart, and as postdoctoral scholar at Princeton University and Cornell University. He earned his doctorate in chemistry at the University of Stuttgart in 2010, after completing a master’s degree in physics at Dresden University of Technology in 2006.

Ed O'Brien

Ed O’Brien joined the department in January 2014 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. His research interests focus on addressing questions of fundamental biological importance at the molecular and cellular length scales by developing and applying theoretical and computational tools rooted in the fields of chemistry, physics and computer science in close connection with experimental data. He is currently using these methods to understand protein behavior during and shortly after their synthesis by the ribosome. This is a critical period in the life of a protein because the manner in which it is synthesized can have a profound effect on cellular health. One overarching goal of his research program is to understand, model and predict the influence of translation and co-translational processes on nascent proteome behavior, which will impact fields such as biomedicine and biotechnology. Since starting at Penn State, Ed has been awarded two prestigious grants, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and an HFSP grant that had a 2% success rate; he has published several papers in high-impact journals including in the Journal of the American Chemical Society; and he has organized serveral international symposia and conferences. Because his research is multi-disciplinary Ed has put together a team scientists composed of chemists, physicists and bioinformaticians. Before joining the faculty at Penn State, O’Brien was a postdoctoral scholar at University of Cambridge. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland College Park in 2008. O’Brien’s awards and honors include an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship, NSF EAPSI Graduate Fellowship, NIH GPP Graduate Fellowship, EPSRC (UK) grant, Royal Society (UK) University Research Fellowship, and BBSRC (UK) David Phillip’s Fellowship.

Lauren Zarzar

Lauren Zarzar joined the department in August 2016 as an Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemistry. She earned a B.A. in Chemistry and a B.S. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Harvard University. As a graduate student, she worked in the group of Prof. Joanna Aizenberg studying the design, fabrication, and functional mechanisms of responsive hydrogel micro-actuators. She then served as a postdoctoral associate in Timothy Swager’s group in the Department of Chemistry at MIT exploring complex emulsions that reconfigure in response to chemical and environmental stimuli. Her research interests include the development of strategies to integrate materials with enhanced chemical and spatial control on nano to micrometer length scales and the design of dynamic materials systems displaying responsive or adaptive behavior.

Xin Zhang

Xin Zhang joined the department in August 2015 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. His research interests focus on biological chemistry and chemical biology. Proper folding and appropriate function of the cellular proteome is essential for life. However, this process is constantly challenged by stresses that dynamically alter the cellular folding environment. The Zhang lab aims to 1) develop chemical tools to monitor cellular stresses that influence protein folding in real time; 2) decipher how the energy landscapes associated with proper protein folding and function are regulated by the cellular folding environment; and 3) examine how this regulation leads to significant biological consequences. The success of this research program not only discerns the origin and consequence of the biological regulation of protein folding and function in a fashion that has not been considered to date, but also potentiates diagnosis and therapeutic strategies to human diseases that are rooted in defective protein folding and function. Before joining the faculty at Penn State, Zhang was a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Research Institute. He earned a Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology in 2010, an M.S. at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2004, and completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Science and Technology of China in 2001. Zhang’s awards and honors include a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface, a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship, an ACS Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education in Chemistry, and a Caltech Herbert Newby McCoy Award in Chemistry.

From the Department Head

From the Department Head

Dear Alumni and Friends:

Greetings from the Penn State Department of Chemistry.  We hope this new electronic edition of the Newsletter finds you enjoying life and reflecting fondly on your time at Penn State.  I’m delighted to bring you news of the exciting developments from the past year in the Department.

Having just finished my first year as Department Head, I want to take the opportunity again to thank Barbara Garrison for the outstanding contributions she made as Head from 2009 to 2015.  Under Barbara’s leadership, we rose in the National Research Council (NRC) rankings to our current place among the top 15 chemistry graduate programs in the country.  We also continue to provide a superb learning environment, which includes award-winning instruction and hands-on research experience for our undergraduates.  Our ascent in the NRC rankings was in no small measure due to the success Barbara and her predecessor, Ayusman Sen, had in hiring excellent young faculty and in attracting the best students to our programs.  Barbara is now enjoying the opportunity to devote more time to her research in theoretical chemistry, and she continues to serve as Associate Head for Space and Facilities in the Department.

I want to thank all the Chemistry alumni who joined us for our reception at the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia on August 21.  It was wonderful to see so many old friends and to have them re-connect with one another.  We hope to continue to do this at future meetings, so please check your email for announcements, and mark mass mailings from us as “not spam!”  There is no greater pleasure for us than to hear from our former students, unless of course it is to have them visit in person.  And when you do visit, you will see much that is familiar and much that has changed for the better.  Chemistry continues to be a top department among its peers, but it is now only one of many strong departments in the College.  Indeed, in the same NRC ranking mentioned above, the Eberly College of Science ranked 7th in the nation among such Colleges! The walls between our departments are lower than ever, and we leverage the power of the Materials Research Institute, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment to engage in collaborative research across disciplines.  The consolidation of facilities for materials characterization, nanofabrication, and computation in the new Millennium Science Complex, together with the central facilities of the Huck Institutes, have greatly amplified our resources for fundamental research.  Chemistry faculty are also key players in the translation of basic science research to the private sector through the new Invent Penn State initiative.

This year marks an important milestone for the Department as we celebrate the remarkable careers of Harry Allcock and Steve Benkovic, who have now been with the Department for 50 years and are still going strong.  Steve, who was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2010, came to Penn State as an Assistant Professor in 1965, and Harry, who is now a member of the National Academy of Engineering, joined us one year later.  What are the secrets to their success and staying power?  They have never lost their sense of excitement about scientific discovery, nor the joy of mentoring bright students and postdocs and then launching them on their own productive careers.  And the height of their accomplishments is in no small measure due to Noreen Allcock and Pat Benkovic, who have managed their laboratories for the past half-century, and whom we are delighted to see every day in the Department.  We were pleased that so many former Benkovic group members and friends were able to attend the 50th anniversary celebration held in Steve and Pat’s honor this August, and we’re looking forward to welcoming the Allcock group back for their special celebration next Spring.

Several of our most talented and valuable staff members have also celebrated round-number milestones in the past year.  Eric Younken and Jim Miller, both in the electronics shop, have been with the Department for 30 and 20 years, respectively, solving every imaginable instrument repair problem, wiring and re-wiring the Department and building many a new gadget for research or teaching.  Ken Brown has worked in our instructional laboratories for 15 years, where he estimates he has helped over 40,000 students and 1,000 teaching assistants.  Mike Joyce has worked with general chemistry faculty and students in our very busy undergraduate program office for ten years, and Dana Hosko has been with us as a research staff assistant for five years.  Notably, all of the staff we are honoring for their long service this year have received at least one staff award during their careers at Penn State.

Along with honoring our longest-serving faculty and staff, we are very pleased to welcome a number of new faculty to the Department.  Joining an outstanding group of Assistant Professors - Miriam Freedman (2010), Amie Boal (2013), Ed O’Brien (2014), Gerald Knizia (2015), and Xin Zhang (2015)  - are our newly minted faculty Joey Cotruvo, Aaron Garner, Joe Houck, and Lauren Zarzar.   Joey Cotruvo arrived at Penn State in August after completing his postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley and brings a new dimension to our growing concentration in Chemical Biology.  Aaron Garner, who was formerly a Preceptor (teaching faculty member) at Harvard, joins us as a lecturer to contribute to our instructional programs in general chemistry, organic, and biological chemistry.  We were able to lure Joe Houck home to central Pennsylvania after an outstanding three years as a lecturer at the University of Maryland, during which time he won the Dean’s Outstanding Lecturer Award.  Joe will lead the development of our World Campus courses while contributing to residential instruction in general and organic chemistry.  Lauren Zarzar, who was a postdoc in Chemistry at MIT, joins us as a new joint hire with the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.  She plans to initiate a new research program in self-assembled and dynamic nanomaterials that will bridge the two disciplines.  Finally, we will welcome Alexey Silakov, whose specialties are EPR spectroscopy and bio-inorganic chemistry, as an Assistant Professor in January 2017.  This year we will continue to look for new faculty who can help us continue our tradition of excellence in organic and bio-organic chemistry, materials, analytical/physical, and theoretical chemistry.  We are also actively searching for a new director of the NMR laboratory.

This year we also extend our best wishes to faculty and staff who are retiring or moving on to new positions.  Will Castleman is retiring after 34 years at Penn State, and an 80th birthday celebration is being organized by Will’s friends and former students at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on April 20-21, 2017.  A member of NAS since 1998, Will’s recent research has focused on molecular clusters and “artificial atoms:” clusters of metal atoms that mimic the electronic structure and bonding of individual atoms in the periodic table.  Will received this year’s Cozzarrelli Prize – the award for the best paper in the physical sciences in PNAS – for his paper on the discovery of clusters that mimic rare earth elements. Will and Heide Castleman are moving to Washington, DC to be near their family, and we wish them all the best in the next chapter of their life together.  We are also saying goodbye to Karl Mueller, who after splitting his time between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Penn State for the past four years will be moving full-time to PNNL, where he serves as Interim Chief Science Officer in the Environmental Sciences Laboratory.  We bid a fond farewell to Alex Radosevich, who is moving to MIT to join their Chemistry Department, and to Emmanuel Hatzakis, who is leaving his position as NMR Director to take a tenure-track position in the Department of Food Science at Ohio State.   Sabrina Glasgow has retired after 34 years with the department as a research staff assistant, and Mary King, Diana Nolten, and Jaclyn Stimely have moved on to other positions in the University and elsewhere.  We are proud of all their accomplishments and trust that they will continue to spread Penn State pride wherever they go.

Our faculty and students have continued to collect awards and honors in recognition of their groundbreaking research and innovative teaching.  Recent research awards include Squire Booker’s selection as a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI); NSF CAREER awards to Miriam Freedman, Ed O’Brien, and Alex Radosevich; Faculty Scholar Medals to John Badding, Squire Booker, and Mauricio Terrones;  and the ACS Inorganic Nanoscience Award to Ray Schaak.  We congratulate Ben Lear and Bratoljub Milosavljevic on their receipt of the Priestley Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching.  I am also very pleased to report that David Boehr, Ben Lear, and Alex Radosevich were promoted to Associate Professor with tenure, and Bratoljub Milosavljevic was promoted to Senior Lecturer.  What a year for our faculty!  In addition to the many graduate students who have received Departmental awards for continuing research and teaching, we are also very pleased that Nicole Famularo (Keating group) won a prestigious NSF Graduate Fellowship, and Alicia Altemose, Julie Fenton, Jared Mondschein, Katheryn Penrod, and Hanna Rose all received honorable mentions.  Finally, I want to express my pride in our graduate students who have organized the Chemistry Graduate Student Association (Chem GSA) as an official club at Penn State.  The Chem GSA, co-advised by faculty member Scott Showalter and graduate program manager Hilary Dellapenta, works to foster the professional development of our M.S. and Ph.D. students by organizing seminars, professional and educational outreach activities, and special events such as Sponsors Days that bring students together with potential employers.  Their energy and enthusiasm is palpable, and they are doing a job that faculty were doing, only better! Why didn’t we think of this before?

My first year as Head has given me a much deeper appreciation of how the professionalism and hard work of our staff enable the success of our students and faculty in executing the academic mission of the Department.  We are truly fortunate to have such a dedicated group who have outlasted many a department head and who work so well together.  This year a big shout-out goes to Larry Johns, our building manager and the head of the Chemistry maintenance shop, who received the Wheeler P. Davey Award for Excellence in Scientific and Technical Support.  Larry and his team adroitly manage laboratory renovations and special projects, including oversight of this year’s massive renovation of Whitmore laboratory, which stayed remarkably on schedule and was completed in August.  As chair of the Department’s Safety Leadership Team, Larry has also been instrumental in establishing and maintaining a new culture of safety in the Chemistry Department.  Future employers will have Larry and the team of graduate students who have worked so hard on this to thank for the fact that Penn State graduates now arrive on the job well trained in laboratory safety.  We also gratefully acknowledge support from Dow Chemical for sponsoring new safety initiatives in Chemistry at Penn State.  For these accomplishments and more, Larry also received the 2015 Overall Staff Excellence Award for the Eberly College of Science.

As I begin my 24th year at Penn State and my second as Department Head, I feel truly fortunate to be part of this team and to see it continue on its upward trajectory.  I hope that you will enjoy catching up with us through the Newsletter, and that you will have an opportunity to visit and share in the excitement of the Department in the not-too-distant future.  Please stay in touch – we would love to hear from you!

From the Ground Up: Founding the Chemistry Graduate Student Association

From the Ground Up: Founding the Chemistry Graduate Student Association

The experimental method begins with observation.  As scientists, this type of thinking is ingrained in us.  So when two graduate students, Inanllely Gonzalez and Susan Butch, observed opportunities for improvement within the department, they set out to test the hypothesis that they could make a positive change in the lives of Chemistry graduate students.  In early 2015, with the help and support of Dr. Ray Schaak, former Graduate Program Manager Jaclyn Stimely, and former Department Head Dr. Barbara Garrison, the Chemistry Graduate Student Association (GSA) was established.  The inaugural executive board completed by Sean McCarthy, Juan Callejas, Patrick Corrigan, and Roderico Acevedo came together to define and accomplish the GSA’s core missions:


1) To provide opportunities for professional development and outreach. The GSA launched a professional development seminar series tailored specifically to the needs of Chemistry graduate students. In addition, they have partnered with local outreach organizations to engage and inspire a future generation of chemists.

2) To foster a sense of community within the department. The GSA encourages graduate students to get to know each other and expand their network through events such as picnics, coffee hours, and intramural sports games.

3) To facilitate the recruitment and retention of Chemistry graduate students. The GSA, in collaboration with the graduate office, instituted a first-year mentoring program to help incoming students navigate the challenges faced during their transition to graduate school.  The GSA also assists in planning events and recruiting volunteers for the annual open house recruitment event.


Today, the GSA executive board includes Inanllely Gonzalez, Patrick Corrigan, Kate Lebold, Erica Frankel, Michael Coco, Jimmy Morse, and Jamie Bingaman, as well as advisers Dr. Scott Showalter and Graduate Program Manager Hilary Dellapenta.  The executive board, together with support from Department Head Dr. Tom Mallouk and over 100 additional active members, continues to carry out the GSA’s core missions by initiating events and programs to benefit Chemistry graduate students.

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