Professor Varberg with Andrew Matsumoto

If you’re a prospective chemistry student choosing a college, one factor to consider is research—Who is pushing the boundaries of what we know? Where can I be involved in research that will prepare me for the competitive world of graduate school or industry?

The data say that Macalester is at the top of the list. Among the 40 peer colleges, Macalester’s Chemistry Department is:

  • #1 per capita in National Science Foundation (NSF) grants for Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI)

  • #2 in total number of active chemistry RUI grants with four (#1 has five)

  • #2 in total RUI funding at $890,000

  • 1 of only 6 institutions with more than one active RUI grant

The RUI grants, which run for three years, are highly competitive. “My program officer told me that typical RUI success rates in chemistry are about 15 percent for new proposals,” says chemistry professor Tom Varberg. “Only about a third of our peer institutions have any active chemistry RUI grants.”

The NSF also funds other grants, such as a program for acquiring research equipment, but it is the RUIs that typically provide professors with the funds to hire student researchers. “The range of research projects supported by our four NSF-RUI grants is impressive,” says chemistry professor and chair Keith Kuwata. “This gives Macalester students a good sense of the breadth of scientific questions that can be answered by applying the concepts and techniques of chemistry.

“Also, with federal funding comes the expectation that faculty will publish the work they do with their undergraduate research collaborators. The opportunity for our students to do publishable research definitely makes them more competitive for future industrial and academic opportunities.”

These Macalester chemistry professors have active RUI grants:

Paul Fischer leads a research group that designs and synthesizes new transition metal complexes using specialized techniques for the rigorous handling of air- and moisture- sensitive substances. Complexes of current interest feature ligands that introduce charge separation within the resulting molecules; this property may promote useful metal-based reactivity with organic molecules.

Keith Kuwata and his student collaborators use computers to mimic chemical reactions taking place in the atmosphere. The computer hardware and software available to his students are sophisticated enough to reveal details about atmospheric processes that cannot be seen with any other scientific instrument.

Kathryn Splan and her research group study the role of metal ions and metal-containing compounds in biology and medicine. They are currently interested in the biochemical role of copper, a metal ion essential for life but toxic when not properly regulated by cells. Student researchers study proteins that use copper for proper function as well as those whose function might be disrupted by high copper levels.

Tom Varberg and his research students use state-of-the-art lasers to study the spectroscopy of small, highly reactive molecules in the gas phase. Their analysis of the spectra determines important molecular characteristics, such as the distances between the atoms and the distribution of molecules’ electrons, enabling them to understand how the atoms are bonded together.

Data collected 9/2014 from NSF Fastlane.

October 1 2014

Back to top