Montana State University

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry moves up in national rankings

December 13, 2012 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN - Students and faculty members in Montana State University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry recently learned that the department has now surpassed Yale, Princeton and other top U.S. schools in terms of federal support for chemical research and development.

The department is now ranked 28th in the nation, up from last year's ranking of 42. When all sources of funding are taken into consideration, MSU is 39th in the nation, up from 64th a year ago. MSU officials said the department would have ranked even better if the data were adjusted per capita. Those rankings were based on the latest information from the National Science Foundation and published this fall in "Chemical and Engineering News."

"This remarkable achievement reflects first and foremost on the great quality and energy of the department's faculty, whose scholarly work to create knowledge has earned great support in the scientific community," said former department head David Singel.

"It also reflects very positively on the foresight and stewardship of administrators who made major investments in the department, and who collaborated with it to seize opportunities to bring talent and treasure to MSU," Singel said. "These investments have provided great returns for the MSU community. We all enjoy, for example, the advantages that a strong academic profile brings in recruiting students.

"Moreover, this achievement supports opportunities for students to collaborate with renowned faculty in research and service projects, and thus helps to advance the MSU mission of integrating learning, discovery and engagement," Singel added.

Current department head and chemistry professor Mary Cloninger said, "This is a remarkable achievement, especially when one compares the size of the faculty in our department with the faculty makeup of other schools in the top 50."

MSU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has 18 full-time tenure-track faculty members, compared to 40 for other schools near MSU in the rankings. But Cloninger said those 18 faculty members are extremely active in research. They are also extremely dedicated and care deeply about teaching, research and service. Not only are they highly committed to their individual research programs, but they are devoted to working collaboratively.

MSU's department also houses the Center for Bio-Inspired NanoMaterials headed by Trevor Douglas, recently named a Montana University Systems Regents Professor; the Thermal Biology Institute led by John Peters; and the CoBRE Center for the Analysis of Cellular Mechanisms and Systems Biology directed by Edward Dratz, Cloninger said.

Data for the ranking was collected in 2010, about the same time as two full professors - Bern Kohler and Robert Walker -- joined the department and added to its productivity, Cloninger said. The renovated Gaines Hall reopened in September 2010 as a state-of-the-art teaching facility for classrooms and laboratories in which to train students in the department. In 2007, the department moved into the new Chemistry and Biochemistry building, a sophisticated research facility that allowed researchers to work on cutting-edge problems.

All of those things contributed to MSU's rise in the national rankings and its success within the university, Cloninger said.

MSU had a record $112.3 million in research expenditures for Fiscal Year 2012, which ended June 30. The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was the year's top research department, with research expenditures totaling $10.6 million.

Three undergraduate students who conducted research in chemistry/biochemistry received Goldwater Scholarships in recent years. David Halat in 2012 and Joe Azzarelli and Ben Naab in 2009 all received the nation's premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering.

Evelyn Boswell at (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu