Professor Jennifer Schomaker Receives NSF CAREER Award for Catalysis Research

Professor Jennifer Schomaker
Professor Jennifer Schomaker

Assistant Professor Jennifer Schomaker recently received a 5-year, $550,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Chemistry for “New Catalysts and Methods for Amine Synthesis via Stereoselective Allene Aziridination.

The prestigious CAREER Award program helps promising assistant professors establish broad foundations for their future research.

The Schomaker group will use this funding to study ways to replace precious metal catalysts with less costly and more abundant transition metal catalysts for selective C-N bond-forming reactions. These new catalysts will allow the group to “develop new methods that permit precise and efficient synthesis of densely functionalized amines,” Schomaker says. “Despite the prevalence of complex amines in important drugs used to target diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis, malaria, and bacterial and viral infections, there are no general, convenient synthetic methods to prepare them. Our work will simplify approaches to known molecules, but more importantly, will enable rapid access to novel derivatives that will help us better understand the balance between beneficial effects and toxicity.”

As part of the project, the Schomaker group will partner with UW-Madison’s PEOPLE program, a pre-college academic enrichment and support pipeline for students of color and low-income students in Wisconsin. Through this partnership, she will invite several local high school students to conduct research under the supervision of a graduate student mentor in her lab.

“[I hope to introduce these] students to the many different aspects of chemical research, from safety to formulating a research question, to data acquisition and analysis, to presenting their work,” Schomaker says. “I strongly believe the scientific community benefits from the perspectives and unique insights people from diverse backgrounds can provide to achieve innovative solutions to impactful scientific questions.”

As part of this experience, the high school student researchers will use social media to show family and friends what they are doing in the lab. The goal of this type of public-facing communication is to help a much broader audience see what is involved in research in the chemical sciences.

“I hope encouraging students to take pictures and videos showing their experimental set-ups and explaining in layman’s terms what their research involves will help get other high students interested in learning more about careers in science,” Schomaker says.

Story by Libby Dowdall