Illinois Wesleyan University

Ram Mohan

Gabe Spalding

Two Illinois Wesleyan Professors Win Cottrell College Science Awards

May 24, 2004

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Two members of the Illinois Wesleyan University faculty are among 51 scientists from throughout the country to receive Cottrell College Science Awards from Research Corporation, America’s first foundation for the advancement of science.

Ram S. Mohan, associate professor of chemistry, and Gabriel C. Spalding, associate professor of physics, were selected for the awards, which are designed to support research in astronomy, chemistry, and physics at predominantly undergraduate colleges.

Mohan’s grant of $29,019 is for a project entitled "Use of ionic liquids as environment-friendly and novel solvents for organic synthesis."

Spalding’s grant of $40,000 will support a project entitled "Brownian particle streams in tuned optical lattices."

In both instances, the grants are for work that the scientists have been conducting in cutting-edge fields.

Mohan has been focusing his research on so-called "green chemistry," which is the use of chemistry for pollution prevention. The aim of the work supported by Cottrell Award is to develop the use of ionic liquids as alternative solvents to volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, for use in organic synthesis. Ionic liquids lack significant vapor pressure and flammability, making them safer to use than volatile organic compounds, most of which also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. Mohan notes that the replacement of VOCs with safer solvents such as ionic liquids should have a significant impact on human health, especially in urban areas.

Spalding has been developing a technique that uses light to separate microscopic particles using a three-dimension lattice, or grid, created by an interference pattern of many laser beams. The research, which has been conducted with a team of scientists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has numerous important implications, including the possibility of delivering drugs at the cellular level. A report on the prototype of a sorting machine was published last November in the journal Nature.

The Cottrell College Science Awards are awarded on the basis of scientific originality, significance, feasibility, and the ability of the institutional environment to sustain the activity. According to the Research Corporation, the awards "challenge faculty to explore new areas of science, to make new discoveries that contribute to their discipline, and to initiate new research programs that can be sustained by other extramural funding supports, as well as with institutional support.

In addition, the Cottrell Awards are based on the involvement of undergraduate students in meaningful ways.

Both Mohan and Spalding include Illinois Wesleyan students in their research, and many undergraduates have been co-authors on scientific papers that have been published in major journals about the respective projects.

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