Science & Tech

Texas A&M Chemist Earns NSF CAREER Award

Texas A&M's David C. Powers earned the National Science Foundation's CAREER Award for his research focused on developing new catalysts to address unsolved problems in chemical synthesis and energy conversion.
By Shana K. Hutchins, Texas A&M University College of Science July 22, 2019

David C. Powers
David C. Powers, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University.

Texas A&M Science

David C. Powers, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been selected to receive a 2019 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, a prestigious honor intended to help kick-start the careers of rising faculty with the potential to become academic leaders in both research and education.

Powers’ proposal, “Aerobic Hypervalent Iodine Chemistry as a Platform for Oxidase Catalysis,” has been funded through the Division of Chemistry and begins in June 2019 and continues through May 2024. His work seeks to develop new methods in sustainable oxidation chemistry using aerobically generated hypervalent iodine reagents.

In essence, Powers hopes to capitalize on the abundance and potential reactivity of oxygen from air as a starting material to make new organic compounds that are critically important to pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and new materials in more sustainable and cost-effective ways. His research program at Texas A&M is focused on developing new catalysts to address unsolved problems in chemical synthesis and energy conversion. In the past year, his group perfected new techniques to convert simple organic molecules into more complex, functional ones using oxygen in its most stable form, O2, as a chemical oxidant. They also have successfully used O2 to synthesize hypervalent iodine reagents from O2, creating a broadly useful class of oxidants that can achieve a diverse set of organic substrate oxidation reactions.

To help integrate his research with educational efforts designed to impact future scientists, Powers intends to create new programs to expand participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. He plans to develop open-access educational resources for community colleges as well as STEM education outreach programs targeted at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Texas to increase STEM participation among traditionally underrepresented groups.

Powers joined the Texas A&M Chemistry faculty in 2015 after obtaining his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Harvard University in 2011 and completing a four-year National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Research Service Award (NRSA) Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. His research combines the tools of modern organic, inorganic and organometallic chemistry with detailed spectroscopic and computational investigations to develop new catalysts and catalysis strategies to tackle a range of synthetic problems related to sustainable chemical synthesis and energy conversion. Powers’ work is independently funded by the Department of Energy and Welch Foundation in addition to the NSF, and his previous honors include a 2018 DOE Early Career Research Award as well as a 2017 Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award. In addition to research, he has been recognized for his teaching, earning selection earlier this month as the 2019-20 recipient of the Montague-CTE Scholar Award for the College of Science. The honor is given to one tenure-track faculty member in each of Texas A&M’s academic colleges based on their early ability and interest in teaching.

“Since joining our faculty in August 2015, Dave Powers has not only demonstrated excellence in research, but also has established himself as an innovator in chemical education with an impressive commitment to teaching and student mentorship,” said Dr. Simon W. North, professor and head of Texas A&M Chemistry. “His highly visible research program addresses major unsolved challenges in sustainability and human health using the tools of synthetic chemistry. I am delighted that he has received this award recognizing the tremendous potential of his work and the substantial positive impact on STEM education at Texas A&M University and beyond.”

This article originally appeared on the College of Science website.

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