Chemist Lands $650,000 NSF Career Development Grant

Award will fund research, allow development of outreach programs for K-12 students

From left to right: Vijay Jupally, Nuwan Kothalawala, Dave Crasto, Chanaka Kumara, Asantha Dharmaratne, and Amala Dass. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Amala Dass, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Mississippi, has been awarded a $650,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program grant from the National Science Foundation.

The prestigious five-year grant allows Dass and his students to continue research in the study of gold alloy nanomolecules and to launch and sustain a summer chemistry research program for Mississippi high school students.

“Dr. Dass is synthesizing and studying interesting nanomaterials that are made from microscopic gold particles and sulfur compounds called thiols that have unusual architectures and interesting electronic properties,” said Charles L. Hussey, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “These gold nanoparticles may have applications in everything from microelectronics to drug delivery systems.”

Dass, who joined UM’s faculty in 2009, said, “Besides God’s goodness, the credit goes to my graduate students, then my mentors, and the overwhelming support from the chemistry department and the university. I enjoy working with students and preparing them to compete with the best nationally and to make a difference locally. This grant makes it possible to do more, but none of this would be possible without my graduate student team, Chanaka Kumara, Vijay Jupally, David Crasto, Praneeth Nimmalla, Nuwan Kothalawala and Asantha Dharmaratne.”

Faculty Early Career Development Program grants are awarded to junior “teacher-scholars” who exemplify the role of “scholar” through outstanding peer-reviewed research; who exemplify the role of “teacher” in the classroom; and who seamlessly integrate the two activities to provide student experiences rich in both education and research.

“The granting of such an award is special recognition by the NSF of Dr. Dass’s potential to become a nationally recognized teacher-scholar, and it illustrates this department’s strong efforts to hire faculty who show excellence in both teaching and research,” Hussey said.

Dass worked with the UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education to develop the high school research opportunity. Each summer, this award will pay for several Mississippi high school students to attend the Summer College program at UM. In the evenings, they will eat, live, and socialize with the other Summer College students; but instead of going to class in the daytime, they will go to Dass’ research laboratory to conduct experiments. A planned outreach component with North Panola High School, North Panola Junior High School and Green Hill Elementary School will ensure that Mississippi students of all grades and socio-economic groups will enjoy extraordinary science education opportunities through this grant.

“This grant provides not only the means for Dr. Dass to establish a firm footing for his own career in science; it also provides the opportunity for Mississippi high school students to walk a few weeks in the shoes and lab coat of a scientist,” said Alice Clark, UM Vice Chancellor for Research and Sponsored Programs. “Hopefully, many will like how the laboratory feels and be inspired to make their own academic and professional careers in science. For those who choose other paths, this experience will allow them to navigate those paths with greater appreciation for the role of science in the world and in their own lives.”

The grant from the National Science Foundation is NSF Award no. CHE-1255519.