posted January 23, 2012

Chemist Jeff Johnson Receives NSF Faculty Development Award

Dr. Jeff Johnson

Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Hope College chemistry faculty has received a major award through the “Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program” of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Johnson’s award will support not only his on-going research but development of an introductory First-Year Seminar in “green chemistry” and sustainability, and connections with Hope College TRIO Upward Bound to help encourage the program’s high school students in their science and mathematics studies.  Totaling $400,000 across five years, the grant will become active beginning in September.

The CAREER awards are for new faculty members pursuing academic careers involving both research and education.  The NSF’s goal is to enhance science education in the United States by supporting the early development of outstanding beginning professors in the sciences, mathematics and engineering.

 “Jeff represents one of the finest teacher-scholars at Hope to give our students the best education possible. With a success rate of 15 percent, receiving an NSF CAREER award on the first attempt is truly extraordinary, and that pretty well exemplifies Jeff as a professor,” said Dr. Moses Lee, who is dean for the natural and applied sciences and a professor of chemistry.  “He is extraordinary in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in mentoring students. We are very proud of Jeff. Just this year, he and his students published two seminal papers in the leading chemistry journal, the ‘Journal of the American Chemistry Society.’”

“One of the goals of the natural and applied sciences division is for all our faculty members to become nationally recognized in his/her area of expertise,” Lee said.  “Jeff has now reached this level and I look forward to seeing his career skyrocket in the near future.”

Johnson’s research, on which he works collaboratively with Hope students during both the school year and summer, is on developing new organic reactivity catalyzed by transition metals.  Through the CAREER award, he and his student team will continue to study reactions that break carbon-carbon bonds, a transformation that is extremely difficult to achieve using traditional organic chemistry.  From better understanding the process he hopes to develop new reaction methodologies that could greatly streamline the production of existing pharmaceuticals, allow the ready preparation of new biologically active molecules, or lead to new methods of creating organic starting materials currently derived from petroleum and related byproducts.

Johnson will develop the course in green chemistry and sustainability in conjunction with the college’s on-going First-Year Seminar program, in which all incoming freshmen enroll in one of a variety of interdisciplinary courses designed to assist them in the intellectual transition to the college’s liberal arts curriculum.  Johnson’s course will emphasize scientific literacy and the challenges involved in communicating science through an emphasis on themes such as catalysis, recycling and alternative energy.

Also through the award, Johnson will be spearheading efforts to develop additional connections between the department of chemistry and Hope College TRIO Upward Bound to support the students in their coursework in the sciences and encourage them in considering careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related careers.  Plans include involving his research students as lesson leaders during Upward Bound’s summer session and increased involvement of Hope students majoring in chemistry or active in research as tutors during the school year.

A member of the Hope faculty since 2007, Johnson has received more than $1 million in external support since coming to the college.  His grants have included an Undergraduate New Investigator Grant from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund (ACS-PRF), a five-year Camille and Henry Dreyfus Faculty Start-Up Award, a Research Corporation Cottrell College Science Award and a National Science Foundation - Major Research Instrumentation award for a remotely accessible 400 MHz NMR spectrometer.  In addition, the college named him a Towsley Research Scholar in January of 2010, providing additional institutional support for his research program for four years.

Prior to coming to Hope, Johnson served as a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at Colorado State University.  He previously completed his doctorate in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004.

He mentored undergraduate students while engaged in research at both Colorado State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He also participated in undergraduate research himself as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., from which he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2000.