NSF presents prestigious CAREER awards to two Rowan professors

NSF presents prestigious CAREER awards to two Rowan professors

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No doubt Drs. Martin Haase and Gustavo Moura-Letts are on the CAREER fast track.

The National Science Foundation recently presented the two Rowan University professors with CAREER: The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program awards.

That’s heady for two professors fewer than 10 years out of graduate school. CAREER awards are as prestigious as they come for young faculty, going to those the NSF determines “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

And the awards are milestones for the University, too. This is the first time the NSF has presented two awards during the same cycle to Rowan professors and marks the third award presented to a faculty member in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering and first to a faculty member in the College of Science & Mathematics. The NSF presented three out of the University’s four CAREER awards in the last two years.

Among the elite

“This places Rowan University in the company of the elite research universities in the country,” said Dr. James Newell, Rowan’s provost.

The government agency awarded Haase, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, an anticipated $500,000 for “CAREER: Nanostructured Particle Stabilized Bi-continuous Emulsions: Formation Principles, Structure-Function Relationships and Biphasic Transport,” to be used from May 2018 through April 2023.

The NSF awarded Moura-Letts, an associate professor in the Department of  Chemistry and Biochemistry, an anticipated $525,000 for his project "CAREER: Metallooxaziridines for the Synthesis of Nitrogen-Containing Three-Membered Heterocycles,” to be used between May 2018 and April 2023.

Developing green alternatives

Haase’s research is aimed at replacing wasteful and costly chemical processes with greener alternatives.

“The chemical industry generates important products, including plastics, pharmaceuticals, detergents and pesticides,” Haase said. “However, the production often requires organic solvents, resulting in costly separations and often generating hazardous waste.”

To develop more cost-efficient and “greener” chemical processes, Haase, a native of Germany who now lives in Philadelphia, investigates the potential uses of bijels, a complex new form of liquid matter. He recently introduced Solvent Transfer Induced Phase Separation (STRIPS), a drastically simplified method for fabricating bijels. His CAREER award explores the use of STRIPS-bijels as liquid reaction media for green chemistry applications.

“Our research will introduce new opportunities for the chemical industry. You basically flow in raw materials at one side of the STRIPS-bijels and collect the products at the other end, all of this without the use of organic solvents,” said Haase, who has worked with five students on the research.

Additionally, Haase conducts science outreach to middle schools and high schools in the City of Camden related to the development of new courses in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Rowan.

“Chemical engineering is an exciting career path with space to develop both professionally and personally, ultimately turning students into inspirations for future generations.” he said.

Haase also is expanding his YouTube channel to form the basis for a broad educational initiative to foster inclusion of underrepresented groups in engineering disciplines.

Haase, 36, earned his undergraduate degree in process engineering from Beuth University, Berlin, and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam. He was a postdoctoral researcher in New York University’s Center of Soft Matter Research and a German Research Foundation fellow in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering prior to coming to Rowan. Haase holds a U.S. patent for STRIPS that he was issued while he was at Penn. Extensively published in his field, Haase has presented on his research in the U.S. and Europe, and he also holds two additional provisional U.S. patents. Various organizations have presented him with awards for his work. (See www.martinhaase.com for more.)

Of the CAREER award, he said, “I’m thrilled that the discoveries that I made are being rewarded and acknowledged, and now I can assemble a team of highly motivated researchers to carry out exciting research.”

Developing new ways to make drugs

Moura-Letts, 40, is an organic chemist who is developing new chemical reactions for the creation of metal complexes to selectively deliver nitrogen atoms across other molecules, thus enabling the creation of better processes to make therapeutic drugs. The goal of his research is to exploit the unique chemical properties of these complexes for the invention of novel chemical reactions. He has worked with more than 35 Rowan students during the last three years on this initiative. He also focuses on developing mechanisms to engage undergraduates, high school students and returning veterans in chemical research in order to stimulate their interest in scientific careers.

Moura-Letts left his native Peru for graduate school. “I wanted to do state-of-the-art science,” he said.

He came to Rowan for much the same reason. “I wanted to lead undergraduate research. I truly believe undergraduate research can compete at the highest levels,” Moura-Letts said. “I felt like Rowan was the only institution I applied to that truly was shifting, that was changing, that was growing. I felt like Rowan would allow me to grow with it. Rowan gives me the opportunity to do what I want to do, what makes me happy, what makes me excited.  And it gives me the opportunity to grow at my own pace.”

Moura-Letts earned his B.S. in chemistry from Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Peru; M.S. in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts; and Ph. D. in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to joining the Rowan faculty, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Molecular Pharmacology and Chemistry Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, and a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemistry at Ohio State University.

A member of the American Chemical Society, Moura-Letts holds a patent and has published and presented extensively. Numerous organizations have presented him with awards for his work. (See more at gmlresearchgroup.com.) 

Moura-Letts, who now lives in Cherry Hill with his wife and son, is excited about the CAREER award not just for himself but also for the University.

“This means that the National Science Foundation recognizes the kind of science that we are producing at Rowan. I think that this award not only represents my efforts but also reflects the environment I am in,” he said. “Rowan is growing, I am growing with Rowan in building a state-of-the-art research university.

Dr. Ali Houshmand, president of Rowan, echoed that. “For any research university to receive multiple CAREER awards in the same year is an exceptional achievement. This validates Rowan’s ongoing investment in world-class research and highlights the skills and potential of the outstanding faculty we continue to draw to the University.”