Chemistry Professor Receives Prestigious Honor

Davita L. Watkins named 2018 Young Investigator by division of the American Chemical Society

UM assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry Davita L. Watkins has been named a 2018 Young Investigator by the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division, a branch of the American Chemical Society. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi chemistry professor has been awarded a prestigious national honor for her work in the fields of organic chemistry and materials science.

Davita L. Watkins, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has been named a 2018 Young Investigator by the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division, a branch of the American Chemical Society.

PMSE Young Investigators are researchers in the first seven years of their independent career in academia, industry or national laboratories who have made significant contributions to their fields within polymer science and engineering. These scientists and engineers are emerging as leaders in the fields of materials and polymer chemistry through the synthesis, processing, characterization and physics of soft materials and their applications.

“It’s very much of a surprise,” said Watkins of the honor. “As a young scientist, I am often narrowly focused on the task that is at hand – be it research, grants, manuscripts, outreach, etc.

“The experience tends to be a very personal one that I genuinely love. In turn, having others in your field acknowledge your hard work, ambition and drive is both humbling and satisfying.”

Watkins and the quality of her science are well deserving of the highly selective recognition, said Greg S. Tschumper, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry.

“The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is extremely proud of Dr. Watkins,” he said. “This type of accolade is a tremendous boon for the research mission of the department and the university. They provide a national stage that highlights some of the outstanding research and researchers at the University of Mississippi.”

Watkins’ research interests include organic and materials chemistry, supramolecular chemistry and other areas, such as exploring the operational efficiency of functional materials. A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 2014, she runs the Watkins Research Group based at UM that addresses challenging problems in materials science and engineering with innovative approaches to molecular design and fabrication.

The group focuses on improving the operational efficiency of functional materials by examining two factors: the nature of the constituting components, and the arrangement of those molecules to yield a useful overall composition, she said.

The goals of the group are to identify the unique building blocks of functional materials and examine how those building blocks behave on a molecular and macromolecular level.

“The new knowledge gained from our research leads to the development of more efficient organic-based materials and devices, thereby advancing the pursuit of technological applications” such as in electronic devices and biomedical implants, Watkins said.

Being named a 2018 Young Investigator is not the first time Watkins has earned acclaim for her research and work during her short tenure at the university.

In 2017, Watkins won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for her research in advanced functional materials that she develops in her laboratory. Among the most prestigious awards made by the NSF, these honors are extremely competitive. The five-year award is for approximately $500,000.

In 2015, Watkins was awarded the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award by Oak Ridge Associated Universities. The competitive research award recognizes science and technology faculty members. Watkins received the award to examine noncovalent interactions between organic semiconducting molecules to increase their efficiency in devices used as alternative forms of energy.

“UM is very proud to have Dr. Watkins as a member of our faculty,” said Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. “She has quickly proven herself to be a talented researcher and teacher, which has already resulted in a number of significant and competitive grant awards and recognitions. I’m excited to watch the evolution of her career.”

The 21 Young Investigator recipients will be honored during a symposium at the fall 2018 American Chemical Society National Meeting, set for Aug. 19-23 in Boston. Each honoree will give a 25-minute lecture on his or her recent research advances. The symposium includes special lectures from established leaders in the field of polymer materials science and engineering.

Watkins’ research – understanding how to build better devices from the molecular level – is an overarching theme in modern organic materials research, said Emily Pentzer, assistant professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and a co-organizer of the symposium.

Watkins was chosen as a Young Investigator both for her current research and her future work.

“The awardees have also established that they will continue to significantly contribute to the field over the rest of their career,” Pentzer said.

Watkins said her symposium lecture will discuss the development of noninvasive functional materials for rapid diagnosis and treatment of acute trauma. After almost four years in development, Watkins said she’s excited to share her research with the scientific community at the symposium.

“I aim to be a teacher-scholar – an exemplary researcher and role model,” she said. “In turn, I am always conscious of the fact that my accomplishments are not my own. Being at UM, I am surrounded by intelligent, supportive people, including mentors, colleagues and students.

“My colleagues and collaborators, as well as amazingly hard-working students, are the ones who make these achievements possible.”

Second Law of Thermodynamics Topic for January Science Cafe

UM researchers Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer to discuss mysteries of entropy

UM chemistry and biochemistry professors Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer will share ‘Harrowing Tales of Entropy’ at the monthly Science Cafe Jan. 30. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The second law of thermodynamics is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer, UM professors of chemistry and biochemistry, will discuss “Harrowing Tales of Entropy.” Admission is free.

The second law of thermodynamics holds that entropy, basically heat lost during a chemical or mechanical transformation, can never decrease in an isolated system, such as the universe. The second law puts a limit on the transformation of heat into work.

“Entropy is a mysterious phenomenon that has puzzled scientists since its discovery by Rudolph Clausius in the 1850s,” Wadkins said. “Did it drive Clausius mad? Perhaps. But it led to his development of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

“Nearly 200 years of scientists have struggled with this mind-blowing, senses-shattering physical phenomenon.”

Wadkins and Hammer’s 45-minute presentation will address several questions about the nature of entropy and how it affects everything.

“Found in refrigerators, automobiles and even our bodies, entropy will eventually destroy the universe,” Hammer said. “We can promise you one thing from this evening of thrills and sensations: you will never look at a snowflake the same way again.”

Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and the forum’s organizer, said he expects a most interesting discussion.

“I’m eagerly waiting their presentation,” Cavaglia said. “Entropy has fascinated researchers for generations, so I’m sure the general public will be fascinated as well.”

Wadkins received his bachelor’s and doctoral degree froms UM in 1986 and 1990, respectively. He held a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institutes of Health, a Gesellschaft Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany, and a postdoctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

He also has been a science and technology policy fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015-16, sponsored by the Biophysical Society.

A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 1990, Wadkins’ research interests are biophysical chemistry, molecular dynamics, fluorescence microscopy and imaging, DNA structure and structural transitions, and biosensors.

Hammer received an honors bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in physical chemistry and chemical physics from the University of Tennessee in 1998 and 2003, respectively. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University and an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Massachusetts.

He joined the UM faculty in 2007 and received tenure in 2013. He was honored as an Ole Miss Faculty Research Fellow in 2008 and received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in 2010 to spectroscopically track the evolution of noncovalent interactions from the single molecule level to the condensed phases.

Hammer also directs the NSF-funded Ole Miss Physical Chemistry Summer Research Program for Undergraduates.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046.

CSI Camp Creates Forensic Summer Fun

Students use real-life tools, techniques on imaginary case for learning experience

High school students (from left) Blake Howard, Caroline Sturgis, Peyton Jolley and Annija Westfall conduct a gunshot residue test during the third annual CSI Camp. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A dead body, blood spatter, guns, bullets and DNA samples – all fake – offered plenty of opportunities for gifted middle and high school students to test their forensic skills recently at the University of Mississippi.

Thirty-five seventh- through 12th-graders visited Ole Miss as part of a weeklong camp on forensic science. Sponsored by the American Academy of Forensic Science, the UM Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Division of Outreach and Continuing Education, the event drew students from Mississippi, Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and the District of Columbia.

Led by Murrell Godfrey, the university’s forensic chemistry program director, and his students, the group spent time honing detective skills while examining “evidence” throughout classrooms and labs in Coulter Hall.

“The students participated in daily labs where they participated in analyzing the crime scene evidence using high-tech instrumentation and techniques used in a real crime laboratory, including gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, liquid chromatography, comparison microscope, DNA analysis and gunshot residue analysis,” Godfrey said.

“The students then must defend their data and results as expert witnesses in a mock trial held on the last day of the camp.”

Ole Miss graduate student Caroline Spencer assisted with instruction, and undergraduate students Zachara Catchings and Ebone McCowan served as camp counselors. Cass Dodgen, project manager for summer programs, coordinated transportation, housing and meals.

Participants observed as Godfrey and others demonstrated the proper procedures for analysis of the staged evidence recovered from the mock crime scene.

Some of the hands-on activities include DNA, fingerprint, gunshot residue, bullet and drug analyses using the same high-tech analytical and physical techniques used in crime laboratories.

Forensic scientists who delivered lectures on different aspects of investigation included Darrell Davis, a retired DEA director from Dallas; DeMia P. Pressley, of the DEA Diversion Control Division in Washington, D.C.; Deedra Hughes, Mississippi Forensics Laboratory assistant director and DNA technical leader from Jackson; and Jennifer Tuten, a DEA forensic chemist from Dallas.

“It was such a great experience to be able to share what I do and participate in such a wonderful event,” Tuten said. “The students were even more interested and excited to learn than I could have imagined.

“I would have jumped on an opportunity like this one when I was in high school.”

A mock trial on the last day of the camp tests students’ knowledge on the various topics and labs.

“The students must serve as expert witnesses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, suspect and so forth,” Godfrey said. “The expert witnesses must defend their analysis of the different pieces of evidence found at the crime scene. A jury will then render a final decision in the case.”

Divided into smaller groups, the students rotated daily between labs in the chemistry department and stations for DNA collection, presumptive tests, ballistics and gunshot residue, fingerprints, and analytical chemistry and forensics. At each station, students analyzed their samples and collected data.

A double-decker bus tour of campus and the university’s Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden was arranged by Don Stanford, assistant director of UM’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

This was the third forensics summer camp hosted at the university.

“This was our best CSI Camp yet,” Godfrey said. “We had 35 campers representing 11 states. Our goal is always to encourage these gifted young minds to become STEM majors once they enter college.”

Several students said they’ve learned a great deal through their experience.

“I expected to learn a lot about solving crimes,” said De’Monica Dumas, a ninth-grader from Shreveport, Louisiana. “During the week, I met some cool experts and learned what goes on behind closed doors when solving a crime.”

Senior Kayla Masari agreed.

“During the week, the experiences I have made have been life-changing,” said Masari, from Dumont, New Jersey. “It has proved to me that it is what I want to be. In addition to that, it has also made the University of Mississippi a top school on my list, and I definitely intend to apply to the forensic chemistry program.”

Other students were Meredith Archer of Tupelo; Alyssa Bencel of Nacogdoches, Texas; Grace Bennett of Waggaman, Louisiana; Nia Binning of Richmond, Georgia; Autumn Bishop of Pell City, Alabama; Amelia Block of Purvis; Katelyn Brooks of Saltillo; Terrell Caldwell of Stockbridge, Georgia; Lauren Colbert of Murphy, Texas; Lindsey Coulon of Bunkie, Louisiana; Kayla Fowler of Conroe, Texas; Axel Gonzalez of Mercedes, Texas; Rachel Harris of Belden; Darby Hesson of Westerville, Ohio; Blake Howard of Cedar Park, Texas; Leah Hughes of Brandon; Peyton Jolley of Bartonville, Texas; Nia Jones of Chicago; Lana Lauer of Beverly Hills, California; Alyshia Moore of Vicksburg; Francisco Munoz of Pharr, Texas; Heaven Ratcliff of Houston, Texas; Gesselle Sanchez of Welasco, Texas; Sydney Sanchez of Spring, Texas; Earline Saunders of Washington, D.C.; Shaelyn Simoneau of Kathleen, Georgia; Caroline Sturgis of Huntsville, Alabama; Isaac Trevino of Donna, Texas; Marija Westfall and Annija Westfall, both of Orange, California; John Wilkins of Bowie, Maryland; Sophia Williams of San Diego; and Tyler Williams of Oxford.

For more information about the forensic chemistry program within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, visit

Chemistry of Milk Topic of UM Science Cafe for February

Chemistry professor and student team up for second presentation of spring semester

Chemistry professor Susan Pedigo will discuss the chemistry of milk and dairy products for this month’s Science Cafe. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The chemistry of dairy products is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s second meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Susan Pedigo, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, along with Lemuel Tsang, a senior biochemistry major from D’Iberville, will discuss “The Chemistry of Milk.” Admission is free.

“Through the millennia, human cultures have exploited one biomolecule or another to create a wide range of foods from milk,” Pedigo said. “We will cover a diverse range of topics, including the incredible origin of milk, butter and its close cousin, margarine, and the art of cheese-making.”

Pedigo and Tsang’s 30-minute presentation will tour the chemistry of the proteins, lipids and carbohydrates in milk. They were motivated to discuss this topic to encourage recognition of the beauty and complexity in the ordinary.

“We tend to take milk for granted, but there are a surprising number and a diverse range of edible products made from milk,” she said. “Since it can support the growth and maturation of a new mammalian creature, it has water and all the required nutrients for life: proteins, lipids and carbohydrates.”

Pedigo said that food is really an interest for her.

“Why is some cheese stringy and other cheese crumbly?” she said. “We have been discussing the chemistry of food since Lemuel took biochemistry last year.”

The presentation should be captivating for all, said Marco Cavaglia, associate professor of physics and astronomy and organizer of the Science Cafe series.

“Dr. Pedigo shares knowledge in a fascinating and yet understandable manner,” Cavaglia said. “Her discussion on milk and its by-products should be most enlightening.”

Pedigo earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Colorado, a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Iowa. Before coming to Ole Miss, she was a postdoctoral scientist at Vanderbilt University

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046.

Embry Legacy Continues with Latest Scholar

Killough receives 2016 award created in football player's memory

Murrell Godfrey (left), UM director of forensic chemistry, talks Embry scholar Lane Killough through the beginning stages of running a polymerase chain reaction. Forensic chemists use the PCR process to duplicate DNA until the sample size is large enough to analyze. Photo by Bill Dabney

Murrell Godfrey (left), UM director of forensic chemistry, talks Embry scholar Lane Killough through the beginning stages of running a polymerase chain reaction. Forensic chemists use the PCR process to duplicate DNA until the sample size is large enough to analyze. Photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – It has been 18 years since Bill and Gwen Embry of Coffeeville lost their son Joey in a drowning accident in 1998. Joey, a University of Mississippi student and an offensive tackle for the Rebel football team, was a well-respected leader on and off the field.

The same year Joey Embry died, Lane Killough was born.

Killough, an honor graduate of Bruce High School, is this year’s recipient of the Joey Embry Memorial Scholarship, a fund established by the Embrys to remember their son and give back to a resident of Calhoun or Yalobusha counties.

“We have known, or known a family member of, each student who has received the scholarship,” Gwen Embry said. “Knowing their names makes it much more personal. Joey’s loss is helping people who knew him.”

In high school, Killough served as president of the Beta Club and the Youth Arts Council. He also was involved with the yearbook and newspaper staffs and was active in the drama club. Additionally, he served as head of the school’s library organization.

“Bill and I are very pleased for the Joey Embry Memorial Scholarship to be awarded to such a deserving student going to the University of Mississippi,” Embry said.

Killough said he appreciates the gift and understands the significance behind it.

“I have always wanted to have this college experience,” he said. “Through the assistance of the scholarship, I can more easily accomplish my goals.”

Killough, who chose to attend Ole Miss after visiting the Oxford campus, plans to major in forensic chemistry, one of only five accredited forensic chemistry programs in the nation. He hopes to use his education to help solve federal crimes.

“I immediately fell in love with the campus and the people,” Killough said. “Everything about the environment and community drew me in.”

Students interested in applying for the scholarship should speak with their high school guidance counselor.

Individuals and organizations can contribute to the Joey Embry Memorial Scholarship Fund through the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; phone 800-340-9542; or online at

Stamps Scholar Recognized by Autism Science Foundation

Dylan Ritter completes second summer conducting brain development research at Texas A&M

Scoot Dindot,left and Dylan Ritter, right.

Scott Dindot (left) and Dylan Ritter in Dindot’s lab.

OXFORD, Miss. – Dylan Ritter, a junior majoring in biochemistry at the University of Mississippi, has been recognized by the Autism Science Foundation as one of the top five undergraduates in the nation working on groundbreaking projects in the field of autism.

Ritter, a Stamps Scholar and member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, is spending two months at Texas A&M University this summer working on an independent project to study brain development in mice with chromosome 15q11.2-13.1 duplication syndrome, a type of autism commonly known as Dup15q. It’s a condition that hits close to home for Ritter.

When Ritter was just 4, his youngest brother, Travis, was diagnosed with Dup15q. While Ritter had an interest in learning more about the condition, he never really considered the possibility of pursuing autism research. Coming to Ole Miss with his eyes set on medical school, Ritter read an article on research being done to analyze Dup15q syndrome in mice being conducted by Scott Dindot at Texas A&M.

Inspired by what he read, Ritter contacted Dindot and was offered a summer job in Dindot’s lab after his freshman year. After working with Dindot, Ritter consulted with his UM mentors, Nathan Hammer, UM associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College, who gave him the assistance and encouragement needed to change his major.

“Dr. Hammer has helped me figure out where I wanted to go, leading me towards the biochemical track of the chemistry degree and offering any help I needed,” Ritter said. “DSG helped me become interested in UM since my first visit on campus and has helped me explore the world outside Ole Miss by encouraging me to pursue opportunities I might usually be hesitant to.”

“Dylan Ritter breaks the mold,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “An incredible problem has gripped his soul and he is pouring his life into its solution. Dylan demonstrates how we should live as citizen scholars in our world today.”

Ritter completes his summer at Texas A&M as one of the top undergraduate researchers in his field. The prestigious honor from the Autism Science Foundation is accompanied by a grant to help fund his research. He received grants from the Honors College to fund his first trip and said they played an important role in his return this summer.

A native of New Jersey, Ritter plans to take a break to go home and visit with friends and family before returning to UM in a few weeks for his junior year.

‘CSI’ Gets Real at UM Forensics Camp

Students get hands-on experience with technology to help solve simulated crimes

CSI Summer Camp participants look for potential evidence in a staged crime scene. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

CSI Summer Camp participants look for potential evidence in a staged crime scene. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The crime scene was cordoned off. A methamphetamine lab operator there had been killed in an apparent botched robbery attempt. Samples were taken to be analyzed, which helped investigators identify a suspect. The situation played out like the plot in a TV crime drama.

But the blood wasn’t real – it was only barbecue sauce and ketchup – and the corpse was a CPR training dummy. The scenario was all part of a weeklong Crime Scene Investigation Camp and Forensic Teacher’s Conference. The event was hosted by the University of Mississippi Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and its forensic chemistry program in cooperation with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, or AAFS, and the UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education.

“By the time the students leave here, they have a good idea of what it’s like to be a forensics expert,” said Murrell Godfrey, associate professor of chemistry and director of the program. “They also understand that ‘CSI’ (the TV show) isn’t real. There’s a lot more that goes into it. You can’t just solve a crime in one hour.”

UM has one of three forensic chemistry programs in the nation that is accredited through the AAFS. The camp put 32 students from across the country and 10 teachers on the case. At UM July 19-24, they participated in crime scene processing, ballistics, gunshot residue testing, DNA and fingerprint lab analysis and other criminal investigation techniques. They also had all the high-tech tools of the trade at their disposal.

“Students get to use equipment and technology that they normally wouldn’t have access to,” Godfrey said.

Students learned about proper chain of custody procedures and the paperwork associated with evidence in a criminal case. They also worked with instructors from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and even had to testify in a mock trial at UM’s School of Law to present their evidence before a jury. Tucker Carrington, director of the Mississippi Innocence Project based at UM, talked to the students about his group’s efforts to use DNA testing to free people who were wrongfully convicted.

Caroline Spencer, a UM doctoral student in chemistry and graduate teaching assistant, helped with the camp. She gave students instructions on the DNA lab work they were doing Monday, which involved using a sophisticated method known as gel electrophoresis to analyze DNA. The method uses an electrical current to separate macromolecules such as DNA, RNA and proteins to be analyzed. Spencer said the camp offers students an opportunity she wishes she’d had at their age.

“They did great,” Spencer said. “They’re learning a lot of techniques that you don’t learn until the college level, like pipetting with gel electrophoresis. I didn’t learn that until my sophomore year of college. They’re getting a really early start with that and they’ll be way ahead of their peers.”

Camp instructors also drive home the importance of studying science, math, engineering and technology.

“The goal here is to show students that you need a strong foundation in science, math, engineering and technology education to go into forensic science or forensic chemistry,” Godfrey said.

Hunter Crane, a seventh-grade science teacher at Oxford Middle School, led a session on ballistics, mainly the different types of bullets and how various guns leave different marks on bullets as they leave the barrel. Crane also helped students perform gunshot residue tests on the hypothetical suspect. Those tests help police determine whether a suspect has fired a gun recently.

Crane said the opportunity to use the camp and the popularity of “CSI” to get the students more interested in STEM fields is incredibly valuable.

“It’s just a great opportunity,” Crane said. “There was already an interest with the ‘CSI’ TV show. But just from what I’ve been involved with, I know the TV show isn’t actually what CSI is. The interest is there and being able to get them involved with the camp here at Ole Miss is a step in the right direction. Science is an important subject that they need.”

Daniell Mattern Chosen for Coulter Professorship

Organic chemist is fourth recipient of distinguished endowed honor

Dr. Daniell Mattern.  Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Dr. Daniell Mattern. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A renowned organic synthetic chemist is the newest recipient of the Margaret McLean Coulter Professorship at the University of Mississippi.

Daniell Mattern is the fourth UM faculty member to be awarded the endowed position, which was established in 1983 through a bequest in the will of the late Victor Aldine Coulter, for whom Coulter Hall is named. Coulter served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1936 to 1957 and was a professor of chemistry.

“I was stunned,” Mattern said after receiving the news from his department chair. “I thought perhaps he was joking, but he assured me he was not. The previous holders have been so impressive; it did not cross my mind that this was in the cards.”

The Coulter Professorship recognizes a professor in the department who has excelled in teaching and research. The award includes the honorific title “Margaret McLean Coulter Professor” and includes a yearly stipend that can be used as a salary supplement or for research support and travel.

Mattern was chosen for this distinction as a result of his outstanding achievements in research about organic electronic materials and his unparalleled success in teaching a difficult branch of chemistry to a myriad of UM students. Previous recipients include the late Charles A. Panetta, retired professor Jon F. Parcher and associate provost Maurice R. Eftink.

“It is rare to find anyone who has graduated from our university and pursued a career in the health professions, such as pharmacy, medicine or dentistry, who has not been touched in some way by Dr. Mattern,” said Charles Hussey, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “He is well known for his engaging teaching style in which he makes a game out of learning organic chemistry. Students quickly forget that they are studying a subject which had seemed so formidable to them in the beginning.”

Mattern joined the UM faculty in 1980, when Coulter Hall was just a few years old.

“Victor Coulter was alive at the time, although I never met him,” he said. “The position offered a good blend of teaching and research opportunities, and I have been able to keep engaged with both of those facets of being a professor for my 35 years here.”

Mattern was promoted to professor in 2004 and is a founding member of the UM chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. He has a long record of instructional excellence, having received the UM Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 1992. He was recognized as College of Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year in 1998.

“The Coulter Professorship is the first recognition I have received that speaks to the full spectrum of a professor’s responsibilities: research, teaching and service,” Mattern said.

The honoree has published extensively about the synthetic routes to organic molecular rectifiers, (such as electronic components that are composed of certain arrangements of organic chemical compounds instead the usual silicon-based electronic materials). Mattern’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation.

“Making a particular molecule a tiny bit smaller, solely by putting deuteriums in place of its hydrogens, has to be among the most personally fulfilling among my research achievements,” Mattern said. “I’d been fascinated with this concept as a graduate student and saw a way to demonstrate it by modifying a molecule we were using in another study. So this little side project satisfied a longtime quest for me.”

Equally gratifying for Mattern was a service task he took upon himself when he was on the Undergraduate Council: a complete revision of the undergraduate catalog.

“It had been assembled piecemeal over the decades and had accumulated a great deal of conflicting, awkward and obsolete passages,” he said. “I found it hard to use as a council member, and I’m sure students found it difficult, too. It took a couple of years, but we got every section reworked and approved.”

When it comes to instruction, Mattern said probably the most fun he has in teaching organic chemistry is on the last day of class.

“We have a course review in the form of a quiz show,” he said. “Teams of students try to answer questions to expose the ‘hidden reaction’ so they can ‘name that product.’ I wear a tux, and we give away goofy prizes to the winners.”

Mattern received a bachelor’s degree from Kalamazoo College in Michigan and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University. He did postdoctoral research at Tufts University Medical School in Boston and the University of California at San Diego before joining UM as an assistant professor in 1980. Mattern teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in organic chemistry.

He is married to Elaine Gelbard, a dance teacher and arts educator. They have two adult daughters, Sierra and Jillian.

Mattern has been a cellist for 50 years and plays with the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. An author, he has written a few Ten-Minutes Plays that have been produced by Theatre Oxford. Mattern also enjoys hiking in mountains and riding his bike around campus.

For more about UM’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, go to

Charles Hussey Named 2015 UM Distinguished Researcher

Chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry honored for achievement, creativity

Dr. Charles Hussey accepts the University of Mississippi's Distinguished Research Creative Achievement Award. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Charles Hussey accepts the University of Mississippi’s Distinguished Research Creative Achievement Award. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Whether or not it’s true that good things comes in threes, that’s certainly been the case for Charles L. Hussey, who received the University of Mississippi’s 2015 Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award on Saturday (May 9).

The UM chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry was presented the prestigious honor, which includes $7,500 and a personal plaque, during the university’s annual Commencement ceremonies in Tad Smith Coliseum. Hussey also received the Electrochemical Society’s Max Bredig Award in Molten Salt and Ionic Liquid Chemistry last October and the Southeastern Conference’s Faculty Achievement Award in April.

“I think this is the most important of the three because it recognizes a lifetime of scientific achievement at UM resulting from hard work, sacrifice, as well as a bit of good luck,” Hussey said upon learning of his third accolade this academic year. “There are many deserving researchers/scholars on this campus, and I was very fortunate and humbled to be chosen from this pool of very accomplished people.

“I have been very privileged to work with a number of outstanding colleagues across the U.S. and Europe, as well as great doctoral and postdoctoral students. And most importantly, I have a very tolerant family who put up with my extra hours at work, many business trips and military reserve duty, too.

Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, said Hussey is most deserving of the award.

“In Dr. Hussy’s prolific career, he has produced more than 150 peer-reviewed publications, including several that have been cited more than 100 times and a seminal article leading to the birth of ionic liquids that has been cited more than 1,500 times,” Clark said. “He has an impressive track record of extramural competitive funding and his lab was recognized recently by R&D Magazine for developing a novel aluminum plating system that was considered to be one of the 100 most technologically significant products in 2014.

“His many accomplishments demonstrate his leadership in the field, his scientific creativity and his instinct for innovative thinking.”

Hussey, who holds a doctorate in chemistry from UM, joined the faculty in 1978 after serving a four-year active duty term as a military scientist at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Frank J. Seiler Research Lab. For more than 30 years, he has researched the electrochemistry and transport properties of ionic liquids and molten salts, an outgrowth of the work he began at the Seiler Lab.

He has authored or co-authored more than 140 refereed journal articles, book chapters, patents and government technical reports. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Alcoa, U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Defense. He is technical editor of the Electrochemical Society journals.

“Dr. Hussey’s research record is truly impressive, and he is a model for other faculty in the college,” said Rich Forgette, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of political science. “Chuck is a leader in his field of electrochemistry, and our chemistry department has flourished under his leadership.”

Hussey said he already has plans for how he will spend funds that come with his award.

“My three grandchildren, Olivia, Charles and Maddie, have requested another trip to Disney World,” he said. “This trip should take care of the stipend money.”

Created in 2008, the annual honor recognizes a faculty member who has shown outstanding accomplishment in research, scholarship and/or creative activity. Much like Hall of Fame inductions, recipients can receive the honor only once. Nominees must be an associate or full professor (including research associate professors or research professors who are not tenure-track faculty) and must have been continuously employed full-time by the university for at least five years.

Past honorees include Sam Shu-Yi Wang, F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering; Larry Walker, director of the National Center for National Products Research; Charles Reagan Wilson, the Kelly Gene Cook Chair of History and professor emeritus of Southern studies, Dale Flesher, Arthur Anderson Lecturer in the Patterson School of Accountancy; Atef Elsherbeni, professor of electrical engineering and associate dean of research and graduate programs in the UM School of Engineering; and Robert Van Ness, Bruce Moore Scholar of Finance and director of the Doctor of Finance program.

UVA President Challenges UM Graduates to Become Problem-Solvers

Teresa A. Sullivan shares trials and triumphs during university's 162nd Commencement

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Acknowledging national and global crises, University of Virginia president Teresa A. Sullivan challenged University of Mississippi graduating seniors Saturday (May 9) to remain engaged, improve themselves and their communities and shoulder responsibilities.

“In a world full of problems, this University of Mississippi Class of 2015 is a well-educated, highly-trained team of problem-solvers,” Sullivan said during her address at the university’s 162nd Commencement ceremony in C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum. “In fact, we expect spectacular, groundbreaking, earth-shattering things from you. We expect you to solve the difficult problems that have confounded us in our time.”

Since taking office in 2010, Sullivan has led UVA through a period of significant progress. In fall 2012, she launched an effort that produced a new strategic plan for the university, the Cornerstone Plan. Sullivan also oversaw completion of a $3 billion capital campaign that will help ensure the institution’s stability and spur innovation in a period of significant financial pressure in higher education.

“Dr. Sullivan is perhaps best known nationally for her leadership on two key issues in higher education,” said Chancellor Dan Jones, who introduced the speaker. “First, the relationship between the publicly appointed boards of public universities and the institutional academic leadership and, second, the merging issues of sexual assault, alcohol use and Greek life on university campuses.”

After Rolling Stone published an account of an alleged sexual assault at a UVA fraternity house last year, sparking a national scandal, Sullivan demonstrated remarkable leadership in her measured, but firm, response and her dedication to providing a safe environment for all students, Jones said.

“Though Rolling Stone has since withdrawn the story and apologized publicly for misreporting, Dr. Sullivan did not dodge the opportunity to evaluate campus policies and practices to assure student well-being,” he said.

Sullivan, in turn, praised Jones as one of the strongest models of values in action.

“Through his ethical leadership, through his personal integrity, through his commitment to pursue the best interests of the University of Mississippi – even at considerable cost – Chancellor Jones has provided a living lesson for all of you,” Sullivan said. “I hope that you will remember his model of exemplary leadership and exceptional humanity as you prepare to assume positions of leadership in your own careers and communities across the nation and around the world.”

Showers forced university officials to move Commencement from its planned location in the Grove. Individual school ceremonies were also shuffled to the coliseum and other rain locations across campus. This is the last graduation for the coliseum, which will be replaced late this year by the new Pavilion at Ole Miss, under construction nearby.

Before Sullivan’s speech, Grady Lee Nutt II of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the 2015 senior class, announced the creation of the Chancellor Dan Jones Endowed Service Scholarship. Following a lengthy standing ovation, Jones, visibly moved by the many supportive remarks, said serving as UM chancellor for the past six years has been the highest era of his professional career. His tenure ends in mid-September per a decision by the State Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees not to renew his contract.

Referencing humanitarians such as Robert F. Kennedy, Walt Whitman and Martin Luther King Jr., Sullivan acknowledged the progress that has been made in human equality and envisioned future evolution in societal attitudes.

“We have come a long way from the days of segregation and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, but we still have a long way to go, as recent crises in cities across the nation have shown us,” Sullivan said. “I hope you will apply the knowledge and training you have acquired here to continue bending the arc of history toward justice, and equality and harmony among people of all races.

“As you leave here, remember to carry with you the values that you have learned – values of honor, hard work, respect for others, civility and reconciliation. In those moments when you are put to the test, you may be tempted to compromise your values. Resist that temptation.”

This year’s graduating class included nearly 2,800 spring candidates for undergraduate and graduate degrees, plus more than 1,200 August graduates.

Among the attendees, William and Angela Dykeman of Forest came to watch their son, Matthew, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

“This is a great experience for us,” William Dykeman said. “Thirty years ago, I earned my degree in electrical engineering from here. Our daughter, who is graduating from high school later this month, is planning to enroll here this fall.”

Kenny Lindsay of Cape Girardeau, Missouri said he and his wife, Roxie, were excited to watch their granddaughter, Megan Lynn, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English.

“We’re as proud as we can be that she’s graduating from Ole Miss,” said Kenny Lindsay, who was in Oxford with other family members. “Neither one of us ever had more than a high school education, so this is a huge achievement within our family.”

Louis Shivers of Natchez came to see his friend, Lewis Bridges of Grenada, receive his specialist degree in curriculum and instruction.

“I’m so proud of him for his diligence which led to this accomplishment,” Shivers said. “As an older student, he had to financially support himself. Even through his illness, he really did wonderfully.”

Following the general ceremony, the College of Liberal Arts and the Oxford campus’ eight schools held separate ceremonies to present baccalaureate, master’s, Doctor of Pharmacy and law diplomas. Sports talk broadcaster Paul Finebaum was the speaker for the Khayat School of Law, Federal Express executive Rose Jackson Flenorl addressed the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, and entrepreneur Edith Kelly-Green spoke at ceremonies for the Patterson School of Accountancy.

Recipients of doctoral degrees were honored at a hooding ceremony Friday evening in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, where three awards were presented by the Graduate School. The Group Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education went to the Department of Civil Engineering. Chancellor Jones received the Individual Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education. John Rimoldi, professor of medicinal chemistry, was presented the Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.

During Saturday’s ceremony, Robert Brown, professor of political science, was honored as the recipient of the 2015 Elise M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, presented annually to the campuswide outstanding teacher.

Charles L. Hussey, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was named the recipient of the university’s eighth Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award.

The university also recognized the winners of this year’s Frist Student Service Awards: Anne McCauley, assistant director of the Office of Sustainability, and Luca Bombelli, associate professor of physics and astronomy.