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Career Catalyst: Chemistry Professor Earns NSF CAREER Award

Hairong Guan receives nearly $660,000 from National Science Foundation for research on catalytic reactions.

Date: 1/14/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: UC Photographic Services
Assistant Professor Hairong Guan is the latest in a string of faculty in the Department of Chemistry to earn a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.

Guan’s proposal, “CAREER: Nickel and Iron Complexes as Efficient and Selective Catalysts for Carbon Dioxide Reduction and Organic Synthesis,” will be funded with $658,364 from NSF for five years, and will incorporate Guan’s research on catalytic reactions as well as his teaching efforts.

Hairong Guan.
Hairong Guan, seen here with a WISE participant, will use the funding from NSF to research synthetic inorganic chemistry.

“This grant is huge for me,” Guan says. “It’s the first big grant from a government agency that I’ve received, and it’s great because not only is it in recognition of the research I have done and will be doing, but in recognition of my teaching as well.”

The CAREER Award is given to junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations,” according to NSF’s Web site.

Guan is an organometallic chemist with an interest in synthetic inorganic chemistry, catalysis and reaction mechanisms.

As a PhD student, Guan studied ruthenium-catalyzed hydrogenation reactions. Ruthenium, a precious metal used routinely for catalysis, is an exceedingly rare metal that is neither cheap nor sustainable. Since coming to University of Cincinnati in 2007, Guan posed the question if similar chemistry could be conducted using more abundant metals.

“It prompted me to create research projects focused on inexpensive metals such as nickel and iron,” he says. “My research group is trying to develop new catalysts to make chemical reactions safer, require less energy input, and use more readily available materials.”

So far, Guan is pretty excited about what he’s found. By studying the kinetic and thermodynamic factors that control the reactivity of compounds derived from these sustainable metals, his research group is able to design more efficient catalysts that convert carbon dioxide to methanol—killing two birds with one stone, he says, by incorporating a greenhouse gas into chemical synthesis and generating an alternative fuel simultaneously.

Guan plans to recruit students from UC’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program and the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED Program to help minorities gain undergraduate research experience. With the assistance from UC’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL), he also hopes to collaborate with primarily undergraduate institutions and encourage students from both UC and collaborating colleges to utilize technologies to discuss research projects and critique research proposals. These activities will create valuable learning experiences for students who hope to continue in the research field.

Ultimately, Guan is excited to earn an achievement shared by many in the department.

“The department has many faculty who have received the CAREER award in recent years, and their success and support is very significant,” says Guan, recognizing their role in helping him in his career. “I’m happy to be part of such a great department.”

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