Chemists' Achievements Termed 'Unprecedented'

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

Faculty in the Chemistry Department have won an unprecedented number of major awards this academic year, which the department is pointing to as an indicator of its growing national stature.

Chemistry faculty members Prof. Amir Hoveyda, Asst. Prof. Marc Snapper and Asst. Prof. John Fourkas each have won prestigious awards. Hoveyda won a highly competitive Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society; Snapper won a Sloan Research Fellowship, an Eli Lilly Award and a DuPont Young Investigator Award; and Fourkas also won a Sloan fellowship.

Hoveyda is a past Sloan fellowship winner, and Snapper's and Fourkas' honors come on the heels of major national awards each won last year. Snapper won a $360,000 National Science Foundation Career Award and Fourkas garnered a $200,000 Beckman Young Investigator Award.

Prof. Amir Hoveyda (Chemistry).

"This success, year after year, is unprecedented for us and is rare for any chemistry department in the country," said Prof. Paul Davidovits (Chemistry), the department chairman. "These achievements make it evident that Boston College is entering the ranks of world-class chemistry departments. The confidence and support the administration has given to our department has certainly played an important role in our success."

The trio's most recent honors are especially notable because none of the three applied for them; each was sought out by companies, or selected from nominations submitted by the department or by peers at other institutions.

The American Chemical Society presents 10 Cope Scholar Awards each year. Hoveyda's was one of just four awarded to chemists between the ages of 36 and 50. It includes a $40,000 research grant and a $5,000 cash award. The honor is a general career-achievement recognition, said Hoveyda, and is not connected to a specific research project. Vanderslice Professor of Chemistry T. Ross Kelly won the award in the over-50 age category two years ago.

Hoveyda said he plans to use the money to generate "seed data" for some cutting-edge research. "I'll use it to do some chemistry that is unorthodox, that would have a difficult time getting funded," he said.

"American Chemical Society awards are the most competitive, the most difficult to get, especially in my age group," Hoveyda said. "A department has really arrived when its faculty win more than one of these awards. And we're going to win lots more. This is just the appetizer."

Snapper said the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company invited him to apply for its award and he was one of three scientists to win a $30,000 grant. Similarly, DuPont sought some of his recent publications, then awarded him a $25,000 grant.

Those two grants, Snapper said, will be used to support graduate and undergraduate students in his lab. Their work likely will focus on "improving methods of making molecules of medicinal interest," he said.

Asst. Prof. Marc Snapper (Chemistry).

Snapper's third honor, the Sloan fellowship, is one of just 23 distributed to chemists nationally. Generally given in the fifth year of a scientist's career, the Sloan fellowship recognizes accomplishment and promise. Snapper said he will use the $25,000 grant to hire a postdoctoral fellow and "bring new expertise into the group.

"It feels wonderful to be recognized by the outside community in this way," Snapper said. "It gets everyone fired up to do their best. It feels great."

Asst. Prof. John Fourkas (Chemistry).
Fourkas said he will use his Sloan fellowship to buy new equipment for his lab, where he uses very short pulses of light to study molecules in real time.

"Obviously, I'm thrilled," said Fourkas. "The fact that Marc and I both won this award is another sign of how well the Chemistry Department is doing. We are achieving international prominence as a department and I'm really happy to be a part of that."

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