Current News

You are here: Home News & Events Current News

Main Content


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.

Story at

Chemistry Grad Students take 3 of 5 top prizes in Millennium Cafe Pitch Competition

Chemistry Grad Students take 3 of 5 top prizes in Millennium Cafe Pitch Competition

The 4th Annual Pitch Competition sponsored by PPG was held on Tues 5/22 at the MSC Cafe Commons. The competition consisted of 44 current graduate students, given just two minutes to present the best "elevator pitch" of their research.

Congratulations to Chemistry grad student Joseph Persichetti for taking 1st Prize.
Additional congrats to Chemistry grad student finalists Alexis Baxter (3rd) and Kayla Gentile (4th).

Winners of this competition will be highlighted at the 2018 Materials Day event with the opportunity to pitch their research during the Keynote Reception.

Mark Maroncelli Receives John Lowe Excellence in Teaching & Service Award

Mark Maroncelli Receives John Lowe Excellence in Teaching & Service Award

Congratulations to Mark Maroncelli, recipient of the John Lowe Excellence in Teaching & Service Award, presented by Joe Keiser, Assistant Head for Undergraduate Education.

2018 Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award

2018 Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award

Devon Van Cura (Chemistry Undergraduate Class of 2018) was the recipient of the Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Chemistry Research. The award was presented at the Chemistry Graduation Reception on May 5th. Devon will attend graduate school in the fall at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The award was established in 2015, in honor and memory of Peter Craig Breen, who was a chemistry major at Penn State from 2010 through 2014.  Peter was a gifted student who excelled in high school and was selected as a National Merit finalist. Peter chose during his senior year to attend Penn State. Peter enrolled at Penn State in 2010 as a Braddock Scholar and a Schreyer’s Scholar in The Eberly College of Science with a major in chemistry. Peter had planned to continue pursuing his passion for research in bioinformatics, and was accepted into three Ph.D. programs before his passing in 2014. Penn State conferred a B.S. degree in Chemistry with honors posthumously to his family in May 2014.

Peter’s friends and family felt that it would be fitting to establish a research award in his name so that his passion for scientific discovery would continue on after him. The award is intended to honor undergraduate students who are dedicated to excellence in research and who are driven by a spirit similar to Peter’s.

Jackie Bortiatynski Awarded Priestley Teaching Prize

Jackie Bortiatynski Awarded Priestley Teaching Prize

Congratulations to Jackie Bortiatynski, the recipient of the Priestley Teaching Prize for her outstanding teaching accomplishments in 2017. 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.

Amie Boal Receives Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

Amie Boal Receives Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

Amie Boal has been selected to receive a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award.  This competitive awards is for junior faculty in the field of Chemistry: only one nomination is allowed per institution, and Amie is one of 12 new Teacher-Scholars this year nationwide.  Congratulations to Amie on this terrific recognition of her accomplishments.

Ray Schaak Published in Current Issue of Science

Ray Schaak Published in Current Issue of Science

Raymond E. Schaak, DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry at Penn State, and a team of chemists have developed a designer’s toolkit that lets them build various levels of complexity into nanoparticles using a simple, mix-and-match process. Read more at PennState Science and find the full publication at

NSF 2018 Graduate Research Fellowship Competition

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) has announced the offer of 2,000 fellowship awards, following a national competition.  The program recruits high-potential, early-career scientists and engineers and supports their graduate research training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Congratulations to Chemistry graduate students Kelsey Schlegel and Alyssa Bienvenu, for being named Fellowship Recipients, as well as to Jacob Sieg, Kathleen Krist, and Theresa Kucinski for receiving honorable mentions.

Launched in 1952 shortly after Congress established NSF, GRFP represents the nation's oldest continuous investment in the U.S. STEM workforce.

"To support U.S. leadership and innovation in science and engineering, we must recognize and nurture talent from all of our nation's communities," said Jim Lewis, NSF acting assistant director for Education and Human Resources. "I am pleased that again this year, the competition has selected talented students from all economic backgrounds and all demographic categories. In addition, NSF worked successfully to accommodate students from U.S. islands devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, so that they could still compete for a fellowship."

The new awardees were selected from more than 12,000 applicants and come from all 50 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Honorable mention recognition went to 1,459 individuals.

The group of 2,000 awardees is diverse, including 1,156 women, 461 individuals from underrepresented minority groups, 75 persons with disabilities, 27 veterans and 780 who have not yet enrolled in graduate school. These awardees did their undergraduate studies at more than 443 institutions, ranging from small undergraduate, minority-serving, tribal and community colleges, to large state or private universities and Ivy League institutions.

GRFP is a critical program in NSF's overall strategy to develop a globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation. Former NSF fellows make transformative breakthroughs in STEM, are leaders in their chosen careers, and have been honored as Nobel laureates. A hallmark of GRFP is its contribution to increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce, including geographic distribution, as well as the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans.

GRFP provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period -- $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution. That support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree in a STEM field.

Fellows have opportunities for international research collaborations through the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) initiative and professional career development with federal internships provided through the Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP). GRFP also supports NSF's Career-Life Balance (CLB) initiative.

Squire Booker Selected as Evan Pugh University Professor

Squire Booker Selected as Evan Pugh University Professor

Squire Booker has been selected for promotion to the rank of Evan Pugh University Professor. This is the highest distinction that the University affords its faculty.

Since 1960, sixty-eight professors have earned the title of Evan Pugh Professor. Chosen for the honor because he or she "has displayed the courage to pioneer in his or her field, the discipline to remain at the forefront of research, and the generosity of spirit to share these accomplishments with students," these professors are humanists as well as scientists.

Penn State's official criteria, on which a committee of seven members judges a candidate, on their “research publications, creative work or both, have been of the highest quality over a period of time, and [has shown] evidence of having contributed significantly to the education of students who later achieve recognition for excellence in the candidate's discipline or interdisciplinary area." The clause concerning students was added in 1973, after the first nine Evan Pugh Professors had been appointed, to provide, said the Board of Trustees, "a more realistic program for the recognition of outstanding professors."

2018 Graduate Student Awards

The 2018 Chemistry Graduate student awards were presented on April 5th, 2018 in 102 Chemistry Building by Dr. Scott Showalter, Chair of the Chemistry Graduate Program:


The Student Leadership Award was presented to Fatma Pir Cakmak. This award is designed to recognize graduate students who have proven to be outstanding leaders, within either the research lab or the science community at large. Fatma serves as President for the Graduate Women in Science and is in charge of the departmental confocal microscope which includes training new users, scheduling and troubleshooting when problems arise. As well, she acts as mentor to both undergrad and graduate students. Fatma leads by example in her labwork, both in terms of intellectual depth and work ethic.

"Fatma is smart, hardworking, and a deep thinker...She is generous with her time and expertise and can be counted on in collaborations and in her position maintaining departmental instrumentation." 
(Chris Keating, nominator)














The Student Services Award was presented to Santina Cruz. This award was designed to recognize graduate students who have proven to be outstanding examples of dedicated service to either their research lab, student organization, or departmental committee. Santina is the Organizer for Lion Lectures, Treasurer for the Graduate Women in Science, Co-President for the Chemistry Graduate Student Association and a member of the departmental Climate and Diversity Committee. She has also served as a reviewer for the College of Engineering Research Symposium, a mentor for Expanding Your Horizons, a judge for the Junior Academy of Science State Meeting, as well as serving on the Grad School 101 Panel and Grad Student Panel for Chem 316. Santina also volunteers at Centre County PAWS.

"In total, Santina exhibits a selfless and sustained commitment to improving the life of others. She is involved in a large number of activities where the focus of the effort is outside herself. I truly believe she is an exceptional example of a good community citizen."

(Ben Lear, nominator)


Megan Matthews receives 2018 Penn State Alumni Achievement Award

Megan Matthews receives 2018 Penn State Alumni Achievement Award

The Penn State Alumni Association will honor Eberly College of Science alumna Megan Matthews with the Alumni Achievement Award. Megan is an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Penn State with a doctoral degree in chemistry in 2011. Read full story here.

Xin Zhang named Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow

Xin Zhang named Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow

Congratulations to Xin Zhang on being named an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. Xin is one of three Eberly College of Science faculty members to have been honored with these prestigious Fellowships, given to promising researchers in the early stages of their careers. Read the full story at

Raymond Schaak Named a Fellow of the AAAS

Raymond Schaak Named a Fellow of the AAAS

Raymond Schaak, DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry at Penn State, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed by peers upon members of the AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science. Schaak was selected for “distinguished contributions to the field of materials synthesis, particularly for the development of new methods to synthesize nanocrystalline solids with targeted structures and properties.”

(Click for full article courtesy of

Squire Booker named Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science

Squire Booker named Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science

Squire J. Booker has been named the Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science. Please Join us in congratulating Squire on this well-deserved recognition of his outstanding work.

Document Actions