USC Dornsife Department of Chemistry Receives 2021 Beckman Scholars Program Award


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USC Department of Chemistry Receives 2021 Beckman Scholars Program Award

New-to-USC program offers top undergraduate chemists and biochemists a supercharged avenue to research, graduate studies and leadership roles.

By Rhonda Hillbery - January 26, 2021

Beckman Scholar Karina Targos creates a web-like material made of cubic siloxanes monomers decorated with an aryl and ester functional group on each corner, an example of using organic chemistry and catalysts to make new functionalized nanomaterials.


USC is one of twelve U.S. universities to receive a 2021 Beckman Scholars Program award, providing intensive research experiences to six scholars over three years under the mentorship of Department of Chemistry faculty.

The Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation award enables Beckman Scholars to join research projects focused on leading-edge research areas ranging from renewable energy and new materials to discovery of mechanisms to better understand biological functions and combat disease.

The announcement marks the first time USC has received the competitive award, preparing exceptionally talented students for future Ph.D. programs and leadership roles in science. It also trains them to become better science communicators, increasingly considered essential to building public understanding of science and its importance in solving global challenges.

The award communicates an important message to prospective undergraduate students about intensive research opportunities available to them working alongside top researchers, said Stephen Bradforth, USC Dornsife Divisional Dean for the Physical Sciences and Mathematics and professor of chemistry. “It shows that our degree program is serious about meaningful one-on-one mentored research experience,” he said. “It also makes clear that we aim to place our majors in top Ph.D. programs.”

The 15-month program includes two summers of full-time mentored laboratory research, coupled with ten hours weekly during fall and spring semesters. The research path will be illuminated by co-designed blueprints guiding each scholar’s intensive dive into chemistry and biochemistry topics. Mentor professors’ research targets core chemistry and some of the world’s most pressing issues in human health, protecting and healing the environment, and new energy discovery.

Each scholar will receive an $18,200 stipend to support research projects, plus funds to attend and make presentations at science conferences. Scholars will also exhibit their research findings through poster presentations, and potentially as speakers, at an annual three-day Beckman Symposium that will feature invited experts from academia, industry, and medicine.

Faculty mentors will train Beckman Scholars to become future leaders of scientific research and innovation, and impart the foundational knowledge needed to pursue graduate school and beyond. According to Professor Peter Qin, department vice chair of undergraduate instruction and professor of chemistry, mentors were selected for their research acumen and strong records of success in mentoring undergraduates.

Professor and Department of Chemistry chair G. K. Surya Prakash focuses on carbon dioxide capture from air and sustainable carbon recycling through a concept called the methanol economy.

Professor Mark E. Thompson researches optical and electronic properties of molecular materials, with an eye toward materials used to create organic LEDs, solar cells, and catalysts for solar fuels.

Professor Anna Krylov develops theoretical methods and state-of-the-art computer codes as tools to study bioimaging, plasma, solar energy, quantum information science, and spectroscopy modeling, often in collaboration with experimentalists.

Professor Matthew Pratt works to develop chemical tools for understanding how protein function is affected by molecular modifications that occur after RNA translation and their impact on cells and living organisms.

Gabilan Assistant Professor Megan Fieser researches materials to replace non-degradable plastic materials such as bottles and approaches to create new useful materials from existing plastic trash.

Other mentors include professors Peter Qin, Moh El-Naggar, Michael Inkpen, Smaranda Marinescu, Raymond Stevens, Barry Thompson, Travis Williams and Chao Zhang. First-round applications will be invited this spring and reviewed by a steering committee that will select one or two scholars to begin training this summer.

Reflecting the commitment of the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation and USC to advance diversity in the science ranks, the USC Beckman Scholar Program’s recruitment and mentoring plans are being developed in consultation with the Dornsife Office of Diversity, with a goal to ensure diverse representation and creation of an inclusive environment in which Scholars feel respected, safe and academically supported.

The program’s focus on supporting young researchers reflects the legacy and values of Arnold Beckman, a famous chemist, inventor, investor and philanthropist. The longtime professor and trustee at the California Institute of Technology founded Beckman Instruments based on his 1934 invention of the pH meter, a device for measuring acidity that is widely considered responsible for revolutionizing the study of chemistry and biology.

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