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Amanda Morris awarded with 2016 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in chemistry

February 23, 2016

Amanda Morris
Amanda Morris joined the Virginia Tech College of Science in 2011.

Amanda Morris, an assistant professor of chemistry with the Virginia Tech College of Science, has been selected as a 2016 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in chemistry.

The award comes with a $55,000 prize that Morris will use to further research in several areas, including creating new methods to transform carbon dioxide into methane, thus reducing air pollutants and providing a means to recycle carbon-based fuels. 

The Sloan Research Fellowship was scheduled to announce this year's winners today in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.

“This prestigious award confirms what we in the department already know, Professor Amanda Morris is committed to and achieving excellence in all aspects of our mission: research, education, and service,” said Jim Tanko, professor and head of the Department of Chemistry. “Amanda is a superb mentor and role model for her students, and we are delighted to have her as a member of our faculty.”

She is head of an inorganic and energy chemistry lab based at Virginia Tech, and recently was awarded a National Science Foundation grant of $605,000 for a project involving artificial photosynthetic assemblies that can covert solar energy into chemical fuels such as methane for long-term storage and use. 

Specifically, Morris is interested in understanding the chemical principles that control energy and electron transport through a class of three-dimensional polymers called metal-organic frameworks. These materials show great promise for incorporation into artificial photosynthetic arrays, the driving inspiration for Morris’ research program.

Morris previously received a $450,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant in 2014 and and a Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities in 2013 for research involving earlier efforts into the oxidation of water, a critical step in artificial photosynthesis, as well as the development of efficient and cheap solar cells to enable wide-spread adoption of solar energy.

Morris earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University in 2005 and a doctorate degree from Johns Hopkins University in 2009. Prior to coming to Virginia Tech in 2011, Morris was a post doctorate researcher at Princeton University. Since 2007, she has authored or co-authored more than 20 research papers, focusing on fundamental aspects of energy and electron transport, next generation solar cell technology, and carbon dioxide reduction.

Devi Parikh, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was also named a 2016 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. A separate story on her award will publish later this month in Virginia Tech News.

 In 2009, Edward Valeev, an associate professor with the College of Science, won a Sloan Fellowship for his work in theoretical chemistry. Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute also is a past winner, among others. High-profile awardees of the past include John Nash, the mathematician made famous for work in game theory and inspiration for the film, “A Beautiful Mind.”

According to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation website, the Sloan Research Fellowships are designed to stimulate research by early-career scientists and scholars of promise from the United States and Canada. The fellowships are awarded yearly to 126 researchers in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field, according to the organization. 

Categories encompass eight scientific and technical fields, including chemistry, computer science, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics.

Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and CEO of General Motors, the New York-based foundation describes itself as a philanthropic, nonprofit grant-making institution supporting original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.