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UW Professor Receives NSF Career Award


February 23, 2012 — Jing Zhou, a University of Wyoming chemistry assistant professor, was the recent recipient of the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. It is the 10th time -- and fourth in the department of chemistry -- a UW junior faculty member has received this award.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of 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. The Chemical Catalysis & Synthesis Program within the NSF's Chemistry Division recommended Zhou for the award.

Zhou will receive a portion of her $506,000 NSF award later this semester to continue her research into the structure and reactivity of oxide-supported metals -- such as gold and nickel -- which serve as catalysts in the energy-production process.

Zhou wants to study how such catalysts work in a controlled environment and eventually present the findings to the energy industry for a clean-energy reforming process to create hydrogen.

"Energy sources, such as coal, oil and natural gas, could not meet our future needs. We need to come up with alternative energy that is clean," says Zhou, who is in her fifth year of teaching at UW. "I'm looking at hydrogen as an alternative energy source.

"In order to get hydrogen, you need a way to do it. One way to do this is through the steam-reforming process with biomaterials, such as ethanol, over catalysts."

Her research also will include an educational component. A UW graduate assistant will teach and promote the importance of nanoscience knowledge as part of an overall science education in the public schools.  A scanning tunneling microscope will be brought into those classrooms and give students an opportunity to visualize the nanoworld of the material, Zhou says.

"This will not only give my students an opportunity to conduct research in the field, but also give them the opportunity to connect the knowledge they learn and be able to interact with undergraduate students and those in the public schools," she says.

In addition, Zhou plans to conduct a nanoscience art show at the UW Campus Activities Center and in K-12 classrooms.

"From an energy standpoint, her research is extremely important," says Edward L. Clennan, head of UW's Department of Chemistry. "Her work is fundamental, but with potential real-world applications in the energy industry. She's a very bright young lady."

The CAREER Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the mission of their organizations. Only assistant professors without tenure are eligible. The CAREER Program is intended for faculty members who are at or near the beginning of their careers.

Zhou says she is honored to join fellow chemistry colleagues --Franco Basile and Jan Kubelka-- who previously received NSF CAREER Awards. Geology professors Mark Clementz, Bryan Shuman and Carrick Eggleston; Gregory Lyng, a mathematics professor; Daniel Dale, chair of the department of physics and astronomy; and Adrian Feiguin, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, are other UW faculty who have previously received the NSF award. Another chemistry professor, selected in the late 1990s, before Zhou's arrival at UW, was the chemistry department's first NSF Career Award winner, Clennan says.

For an UWyo magazine article on former NSF Career Award winners, go to page 18 of this link: http://www.uwyo.edu/uwyo/2011/docs/uwyo_v11n2_fall%202009_web.pdf

"I'm excited. It's recognition of my research," Zhou says. "This (award) gives me a lot of momentum to move my research program forward. It gives me financial support to train and educate my students."

Photo:
Jing Zhou, a University of Wyoming chemistry assistant professor, conducts research on an ultra-high vacuum surface analysis apparatus in her laboratory in the Physical Sciences Building. The equipment is used to prepare catalytic materials and characterize their structure and reactivity. Zhou was the recent recipient of the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Award. Zhou will receive a $506,000 NSF award to continue her research into the structure and reactivity of oxide-supported metals -- such as gold and nickel -- which serve as catalysts in the energy-production process. 

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