Davita Watkins, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has won a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award for her research in elucidating the role of sigma-hole interactions in advanced functional materials that she develops in her labs on the campus of the University of Mississippi. The award totals approximately $500,000 and has a duration of five years. The operational efficiency of functional materials—ranging from solar-harvesting polymers to nanosized therapeutic drug delivery systems—depend on two factors: (1) the nature of the constituting components (i.e., molecules); and (2) the arrangement of those molecules to yield a useful overall composition. The ability to control these molecules and understand their organization into discrete nanoscale arrays that exhibit unique properties affords transformative advances in chemistry and material science. The research focus of this CAREER plan is to establish guidelines towards developing molecules that absorb natural energy and produce/conduct electrical current. These molecules are unique in that they are programmed to self-organize and form structures that enhance those light-harvesting properties. The new knowledge gained from this research leads to the development of more efficient organic-based materials and devices; thereby, advancing the pursuit of technological applications (e.g., electronic devices and biomedical implants). Moreover, the project affords opportunities to technically train the next generation of scientists and engineers. Specifically, outreach initiatives are aimed towards increasing the number of females and minorities in chemistry-related fields by immersing rising high school seniors into a summer research program called Operation ICB (I Can Be). The program ensures continuation in scientific career fields by establishing networks and mentorship across disciplines; in turn, diversifying the future of the scientific workforce and culture. Move information about Dr. Watkins can be found on her research program website at http://watkinsresearchgroup.org.
Previous NSF Career Awardees in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry include:
Andrew Cooksy (1995)
Nathan Hammer (2010)
Amal Dass (2013)
Jared Delcamp (2015)