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Cornell's Paul Chirik wins national research award

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Paul J. Chirik, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, is one of this year's recipients of a Faculty Early Career Development Program grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Chirik will receive a five-year grant of $520,000 to support his research.

Early Career awards are the NSF's most prestigious honors for new faculty members, recognizing and supporting teacher-scholars who are considered most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.

Before joining the Cornell faculty in 2001, Chirik spent a year as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with chemistry professor Christopher Cummins, a Cornell alumnus. Chirik obtained his Ph.D. in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology in 2000 and his B.S. in chemistry at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1995.

He and his research group are investigating the use of transition metal complexes to expand the scope of synthetic chemistry to include molecules that usually do not participate in chemical reactions. In addition to uncovering the basic chemical principles that control transition metal reactivity, these studies also could provide new building blocks for the construction of more complex molecules. Chirik and his group recently have discovered a new method for activating atmospheric nitrogen with early transition metals, such as zirconium.

Ultimately he hopes to use this approach to prepare a range of nitrogen-containing molecules that could be used as pharmaceuticals, fuels and dyes. The researchers also have been exploring a series of rhodium compounds that selectively break carbon-carbon bonds in common organic molecules. These reactions eventually could provide new tools for the synthetic chemist.

Chirik said he will use the NSF award to support graduate students interested in these research areas as well as to convey the nature of his research through outreach activities for undergraduate students and the Ithaca community.

His previous awards include the Herbert Newby McCoy Award while at Caltech and an American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund starter grant for his research at Cornell.

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