University of Vermont

University Communications

Young Scientists Win NSF Grants

Release Date: 02-28-2008

Author: Joshua E. Brown
Phone: 802-656-3039 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Matthias Brewer works on assembling complex molecules from simple starting materials, with an eye toward one day improving the way medicines are made. Frederic Sansoz studies the strength and properties of extremely small wires, an important piece of the revolution in "nanomaterials." Both are young scientists whose research promises to push forward on basic questions in science—and, in time, contribute a clear public benefit.

That's why the National Science Foundation granted Brewer, assistant professor of chemistry, and Sansoz, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, Early Career Development Awards (CAREER), funding portions of their research for the next five years.

This is only the second time the University of Vermont has won two of the highly competitive CAREER grants in one year. Brewer's $500,000 grant, "Synthetic Methodology for the Preparation of Polycyclic Nitrogen or Oxygen Containing Heterocycles," will begin March 1, 2008. Sansoz's $400,000 grant, "Microstructure and Size Effects on Metal Plasticity at Limited Length Scale," will begin in April.

Brewer's project will develop new methods for creating organic compounds containing nitrogen or oxygen—under mild and environmentally benign conditions. This research will "provide biomedical researchers with new tools to prepare biologically active compounds that are often difficult to synthesize by current methods," he wrote.

NSF CAREER awards support untenured faculty's career development not just in research but also in education. "Being a faculty member at UVM, it is no surprise that I am interested in green chemistry," said Brewer, who completed his undergraduate degree at UVM in 1996, studying with Paul Krapcho, before returning join the chemistry department three years ago. In addition to his research agenda, Brewer plans to incorporate green "concepts and experiments into the undergraduate organic curriculum to strengthen our students' education," he said. "This will lay the groundwork for the next generation of chemists to develop more efficient and environmentally friendly processes throughout their careers."

For Sansoz, who studies the strange microscopic world of metallic nanomaterials, the grant presents an opportunity to continue his work with wires of nickel and gold at the scale of the atom. He expects to produce "nanorods" and "nanowires" with specific kinds of intended defects that, at that miniaturized level, make them stronger. For example, "nanoscale wires of gold, which is naturally a very soft metal, are ultra-strong materials with a strength up to a 100 times that of bulk metals," he notes.

Sansoz will be developing several education initiatives through his grant, including a scientific imaging and photographic arts project to improve recruitment in engineering of students from rural high schools in northern Vermont and the Abenaki Indian tribe in the Missisquoi Valley.

"These CAREER awards are very prestigious and highly competitive," said UVM professor of biology, Judith Van Houten; she directs the Vermont EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) program that will administer and support the new grants. "The challenge is to integrate teaching and research seamlessly. Our UVM faculty are particularly dedicated to teaching, in addition to being excellent scientists and engineers, and this contributes to their success with CAREER awards."

Other recent CAREER grant winners at UVM include: Paul Bierman in 1997, Chris Landry in 1999, Naomi Chesler in 2000, Darren Hitt in 2001, Adel Sadek in 2002, and Britt Holmen in 2006. Randall Headrick and David Bucci both won CAREER grants in 2004, according the Vermont EPSCoR office.