Professor Randall Goldsmith Receives NSF CAREER Award for Single-Molecule Research

Professor Randall Goldsmith, UW-Madison Department of Chemistry
Professor Randall Goldsmith

Assistant Professor Randall Goldsmith recently received a 5-year, $630,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Chemistry for “Single-Molecule Spectroscopy as a Mechanistic Tool for Studying Catalyst Reaction Dynamics.” The prestigious CAREER Award funds promising assistant professors and helps them establish broad foundations for their future research. To be considered, projects must demonstrate a deliberate focus on integrating the proposed research with education.

Goldsmith’s award will support research to learn about how catalysts operate by examining catalyst molecules individually. Working with a new tool for studying single molecules will be one important aspect of the project.

“The smallest umbrella under which you could classify all the things we do is ‘single molecule measurements’ — not one type of molecule, but literally one molecule at a time,” Goldsmith says. “We’re trying to push the techniques and technology for doing that style of measurements.”

Locating the unique properties of a single molecule is important, because otherwise you’re looking at the average of a lot of catalysts and all of their different behaviors, Goldsmith says.

In his proposal, he details several ideas for tying this research together with education. First, he and his colleagues have begun developing a single-molecule demonstration for use in general chemistry classes at UW-Madison. They also will work to develop a durable, portable, and relatively cheap (think $2,000 rather than $70,000) single-molecule microscope that can be used for talks in high school classrooms. The microscope would allow students to see the light from single molecules with the naked eye.

The new project expands upon work the group previously had conducted with support from Goldsmith’s 2012 American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award.

Story by Libby Dowdall