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Todd Harrop and Jason Locklin Win NSF Career Awards

Two of our assistant professors, Todd Harrop and Jason Locklin, have each won the prestigious "Career" Award from the National Science Foundation this year. This Award is given to promising young assistant professors at the beginning of their careers, based on their potential to start innovative new research programs.

Their record in graduate and postdoctoral work, recommendation letters from senior scientists in their area, the endorsement of their own department, a detailed research proposal and a plan for scientific outreach to the community are all part of the application process. The award provides funding for five years, with the intention of jump-starting their research program.

Todd Harrop, Assistant Professor of Bioinorganic Chemistry, will receive an award in the amount of $626,775 for a project entitled, “Understanding the Role of Nickel-Sulfur Complexes in Catalytic ROS Detoxification: Insight from Ni-SOD Synthetic Analogues.” The objective of the research is to advance the understanding of the chemistry of biologically relevant metal-sulfur coordination units in their catalytic role as scavengers of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in metalloenzymes. Current knowledge in this area suggests that such coordination units should be prone to ligand-based oxidation instead of metal-centered redox. A fundamental understanding of the chemical properties of these systems is important to human health since these ROS have been implicated in disease progression, especially in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as cardiovascular disease. Thus, Harrop’s group will utilize a synthetic bioinorganic-modeling approach towards the newest and most unusual ROS-detoxifying enzyme, namely nickel superoxide dismutase (Ni-SOD). Collectively, the contribution of these studies will provide a deeper understanding of new concepts in the unique coordination and reaction chemistry of Ni-SOD and result in the intelligent design of molecules with SOD activity for use in catalysis and pharmaceuticals. The molecules that Harrop’s group are constructing will also provide biochemists and theoreticians with spectroscopic, structural, and reactive benchmarks for potential species traversed along the catalytic pathway of these ROS destroying enzymes.

The outreach part of Harrop’s award will be used to establish a new research program with undergraduate chemistry majors from Fort Valley State University (FVSU), a historically African-American university in Fort Valley, GA. The program will consist of Harrop’s group hosting 1-2 summer research fellows/year. The summer fellow will help plan and execute a very defined portion of the project and present this work at FVSU and at ACS national/regional meetings as a requirement of the program. The principal goal of Harrop’s educational plan is to increase awareness, participation, and retention of underrepresented minority groups in the STEM disciplines. Harrop hopes that his research initiative will also result in an increase in applicants from FVSU to UGA’s chemistry graduate program.

Jason Locklin, Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, will receive an award in the amount of $490,000 for a project entitled, “Tailoring Photo-Switchable Interfaces using Functional Polymer Brushes." This project centers on understanding how light-induced conformation changes in surface-bound polymer brushes influence surface, interfacial, and macroscopic properties in photochromic thin films. The three dimensional arrangement of photochromic moieties in extended polymer chains results in an increased density of functional groups at the surface that can be used to amplify the stimuli responsive nature of functional coatings. This proposal is aimed at synthesizing photochromic polymer brushes using surface initiated polymerization techniques that can be used to complete the following three research objectives: (1) Using light to control the colorimetric response of photochromic polymers through metal ion complexation. The reversible binding mechanism of photo-induced complexation that occurs when spiropyran containing polymers are irradiated in the presence of different metal ions will be elucidated and exploited to generate reversible ion sensors. (2) Investigating reversible, photo-switchable adhesion. The design of surfaces that undergo photo-induced phase separation will allow for surfaces that switch from adhesive to non-adhesive states. (3) Investigating photo-induced mechanical motion on the single molecule level. Light will be used to induce conformation changes between random coils and extended chains on surface of different free energy, leading to photo-induced mechanical motion.

The creation of functional surfaces with controlled interfacial properties using light as an external stimulus will have a major impact on a wide variety of scientific developments, such as sensors, microfluidic devices, controllable drug delivery, optical data storage, self-cleaning, antifogging and antifouling surfaces. Light as a stimulus can provide the ability to control sensor response remotely, with high speed and spatial precision. Measuring and quantifying the interfacial forces involved in photoresponsive polymer surfaces will help to elucidate the origins of adhesion in responsive materials. The understanding of polymers, especially in two-dimensional space, will be improved with the investigation of photo-induced motion at the molecular level. The technical nature of this project provides an interdisciplinary training experience for graduate and undergraduate students in polymer synthesis and thin film characterization. This training will provide students with the skill set necessary in addressing the future needs of polymer scientists.

The outreach component of Locklin's project includes a "summer camp" for ten high school teachers to be held at the University of Georgia aimed at providing teachers with simple experiments involving polymer science to perform in their classrooms. The ultimate goal of this outreach project is to provide a large social and economic impact by influencing young students to pursue careers in science and engineering.

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Assistant to the Department Head: Donna Spotts, 706-542-1919 

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Head of Chemistry: Prof. Jason Locklin