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NMSU chemistry professor receives national, prestigious Dreyfus research award

New Mexico State University associate professor Jeremy Smith in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was recently selected as a 2009 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar awardee for early-career chemists in the U.S.

New Mexico State University professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Jeremy Smith, was recently selected as a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, an award for early-career chemists in the U.S. (NMSU Photo by Darren Phillips)

Smith, who has conducted research in inorganic chemistry and taught at NMSU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences since 2003, was one of 14 award recipients nationwide from institutions such as CalTech, University of California-Berkeley, Cornell, Columbia University, University of Michigan and Harvard.

"It is extremely difficult to be competitive with people at those institutions. So overall, I feel very pleased and satisfied," Smith said.

Smith works locally and internationally with a group of synthetic inorganic chemists who make molecules and characterize their physical properties, electronic structure and reaction mechanisms. Some of the research the team does is relevant to the formation of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen gas.

Half the ammonia in the world made by humans is made by the Haber-Bosch Process, and 40 percent of the world's population owes its existence to this process (i.e. growing food through nitrogen regeneration in the soil), Smith said.

Smith devotes a large portion of his time to assuring that his undergraduate students achieve success in their pursuit of chemistry. He has written over 11 scientific publications in his time at NMSU, with undergraduates being key researchers and co-authors on many of them.

"I am grateful to have worked with some really bright and enthusiastic undergraduates over the years. This could not have happened without them," Smith said. "I also want to acknowledge the support of my departmental colleagues, particularly Haobin Wang, with whom I have co-advised a number of undergraduate researchers."

Smith received his bachelor's, honors bachelor's and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. From 2000 to 2003 he did his postdoctoral work at the University of Rochester in New York.

"This is clearly the most prestigious national award for scholarly research ever conferred on a member of this department in the entire existence of NMSU," said Glenn Kuehn, department head for Chemistry and Biochemistry and Smith's nominator.

"Dr. Smith's nomination and selection for this award is not for one single discovery or product that he might have produced," Kuehn said. "It is for development of a general approach to devising molecular ligands that can mediate chemical cleavage of multiple chemical bonds between two atoms, such as molecular nitrogen, as an example. Dr. Smith has shown chemists how to rationally construct substances that can carry out such chemical reactions. In the case of molecular nitrogen, his methods have developed a means to convert molecular nitrogen to products in fertilizers, which are also naturally produced by nitrogen-fixing microorganisms. His work promises to produce even more efficient ligands in future work. Thus, his work is relevant to both chemistry and the understanding of complex biological catalysts."