UB professor receives $50,000 grant for scientific research
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 21:03
Dr. Eva Zurek knew she was destined to be a star.
She wanted to study acting at Canada’s University of Calgary despite her parent’s disapproval. They told her there was no money in the arts. They encouraged her to pursue science.
Zurek, an assistant chemistry professor who once aspired to be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is receiving $50,000 in grant money to work with supercomputers and examine structures and properties of everyday materials.
The Poland native is using the Sloan Research Fellowship grant to continue studying how superconductors can save energy.
Zurek’s endeavoris to make systems stable without pressure by studying superconductors and create plastic in a more cost-effective manner. She is also a member of UB’s recent New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informaticsand is interested in studying plastics, like the ones used in display screens or high-definition televisions and smartphones. Zurek focuses on how organic molecules interact with surface metals. She wants to find ways to build different organic electronic materials.
She hopes to accomplish three things: Create a practical electric superconductor, use organic plastics in TV display screens and study certain catalysts that could create cheaper plastics.
All three projects, if accomplished, will benefit the environment and economy, according to Zurek.
With a superconductor at room temperature, electricity is able to flow without resistance and thus conserves it, she said.
“You wouldn’t waste energy,” Zurek said. “With something like a superconductor, you would be able to pass electricity without resistance.”
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards the grant to 126 researchers in the United States and Canada in an effort to not only support research and higher education but also improve the quality of American society, according to its website.
This year, Zurek is one of the 126. The grant will provide her with the funds to buy materials, travel for conferences and pay students and postdoctoral fellows who assist her, according to Michael Detty, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry.
“[Zurek is] an emerging leader in our department – not only scientifically, but in all aspects of the academic endeavor,” Detty told UB Reporter. “Her research in computational materials prediction is destined to have high impact in materials research in areas including superconductivity, catalysis, energy and molecular self-assembly.”
For years, Zurek worked under Nobel Prize winner Roald Hoffman; she attributes a large portion of her win to him.
After earning a Master’s degree in theoretical chemistry, she continued her postdoctoral research at Cornell University, where she met Hoffman.
“I attribute the win to my background,” Zurek said. “I’ve received really good training and understanding in interesting new materials.”
Zurek notes Hoffman taught her to look at chemical systems in a completely different way – a vital tool in her studies.
She credits the Nobel Prize winner with teaching her how to “understand bonding in solids” and how to approach examining chemical systems.
The $50,000 grant allows Zurek the freedom of spending with no restrictions. A large portion of the grant will go toward salaries for her TA students, she said.
“[The grant] gives Dr. Zurek the opportunity to go into a field that she doesn’t normally have,”said Andrew Shamp, a Ph.D. chemistry student.“This grant allows her to do whatever she wants.”
Although this may seem like a large sum of money, Zurek pointed out that even with the grant she couldn’t hire as many people as she would like.
She said her research projects involve in-depth chemical knowledge and application.
“The students will benefit from their adviser’s enhanced reputation,” Detty said. “A good reputation rubs off on others.”
Detty nominated Zurek for the fellowship. She was the best candidate because she is an assistant professor and already has national and international recognition for her accomplishments, according to Detty.
Members of the department acknowledge the importance of faculty-student relationships.
“One way for students to become eligible for such awards is to engage with our excellent faculty,” said Alexander Cartwright, vice president for research and economic developments. “Students should work with the faculty on their research.”
Zurek stressed the grant is a continual opportunity and students who have been rejected should be persistent.
“You always get rejected,” Zurek said. “You have to learn to be open minded and understand criticisms.”
Zurek submitted her publishing last year for the award and did not receive the grant.
Zurek emphasized the importance her background played in her success, as well as her persistent drive and determination. She thinks students should be enthusiastic about everything they learn.