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June 26, 2020

MSU’s Melanie Cooper, James McCusker land Royal Society of Chemistry honors

Melanie Cooper, Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education, and James K. McCusker, Michigan State University Foundation Professor of Chemistry, each received a prestigious award from the Royal Society of Chemistry, or RSC. Cooper received the 2020 Education Award from the RSC’s Education Division; McCusker received the 2020 Chemical Dynamics Award from the RSC’s Faraday Division. Both are professors in the MSU Department of Chemistry in the College of Natural Science.

Cooper was recognized for her outstanding accomplishments in designing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based chemistry curricula and catalyzing the careers of many chemistry education researchers.

“Of course, it is an honor to win an award; but this one, coming as it does from the Royal Society of Chemistry [in London], is extra special,” said Cooper, noting that she is originally from Manchester, England. “This award is in recognition of my work in chemistry education research and curriculum development, and for mentoring some of the next generation of chemistry education scholars. I am proud of both aspects of my career, and it means a lot to me to be recognized for my efforts."

“Winning this award gives further recognition to the work that we have been doing at MSU to transform the chemistry curriculum and support students as they learn chemistry,” said Cooper, who holds a joint appointment in the College of Education and is a faculty member in MSU’s CREATE for STEM Institute. “Recognition by an international chemistry society gives a much broader audience the opportunity to learn about our work in chemistry education and the successes we have had.”

“Cooper is a world-renowned expert in chemical education research and as such, it is fitting that Melanie is the first U.S. recipient of the Royal Society’s Education Award,” said Rob Maleczka, professor and chair of the MSU Department of Chemistry. “Year in and year out, hundreds of MSU freshmen and sophomores have been educated through evidence-based methods developed by the Cooper group. Indeed, we congratulate Melanie, as well as the entire Cooper group, on receiving this well-deserved honor.” 

Cooper, who joined MSU in 2013, earned her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from the University of Manchester, England.

Her dedication to the improvement of teaching chemistry in higher education is evidenced through her involvement in many professional organizations. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, or ACS, and the Royal Society of Chemistry and is a member of the National Research Council Advisory Board on Science Education. 

McCusker received his award in recognition of his outstanding, innovative research on the dynamics of molecules, including spectroscopy, kinetics or molecular interactions in the gas, liquid or solid phase.

After joining MSU in 2001, McCusker’s lab began work on the largely unexplored field of the ultrafast photophysics of first-row transition metal complexes. His research on the ultrafast excited-state dynamics of transition metal compounds, particularly how they relate to the development of solar energy conversion strategies based on earth-abundant materials, earned him this notable RSC award.

“I was extremely surprised and humbled upon receiving notification that the Royal Society of Chemistry had selected me to receive the award,” McCusker said. “I've had the privilege to work with many bright, talented and motivated students over the years who have produced the kind of science that this award is so graciously recognizing. I couldn't be more pleased to be able to accept this award on behalf of the students who have worked with me during my career.”

“Jim’s award is well deserved and speaks to the international reach of the discoveries being made by the McCusker group,” Maleczka said. “The chemistry department congratulates Jim and the students and post-docs who share this honor. We look forward to celebrating with them, even if only via zoom!”

Today, McCusker’s students continue to investigate new and exciting approaches to molecular design, laying the foundation for advances in electricity and fuel generation, as well as new catalysts for use in organic synthesis, using light as the main source of energy to drive their development.

The internationally renowned physical-inorganic chemist was inspired by his high school chemistry teacher and a textbook chapter on the electronic structure of the atom. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry from Bucknell University and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He has inspired hundreds of chemistry students during his tenure at MSU, and his efforts have been recognized with MSU’s William Beal Outstanding Faculty Award. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Scheduling of the award ceremony, as well as a week-long invited lecture tour across the United Kingdom, is currently in the planning stages.

The Royal Society of Chemistry, first formed in 1841 as the Chemical Society of London, now has more than 54,000 members. Its mission is to advance excellence in the chemical sciences. 

For more information about Cooper and McCusker’s respective awards, careers and research and the Royal Society of Chemistry, visit here and here.

By: Val Osowski

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