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Three Rutgers professors share thoughts on scientific fellowship recognition, future research goals

Alan Goldman, a distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and one of the newly elected fellows, said that he is grateful to be recognized by his colleagues.
 – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recently announced its 2021 class of fellows, 12 of whom are Rutgers professors, according to a press release

The newly elected class includes 564 individuals from universities across the country who were chosen for their contributions to the advancement of science in society. Three Rutgers fellows discussed their thoughts on being acknowledged for their scientific contributions and research goals for the future.

Alan Goldman, a distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and one of the fellows, said that he is grateful for the honor and glad to be appreciated by his colleagues from Rutgers and other institutions.

Goldman’s research was recognized for its contributions to the development of catalysts in chemistry, according to the release. His laboratory studies how transition metals — like copper and iron — can be used to increase the reaction rates of otherwise inert reactions to create synthetic fuels and pharmaceuticals, he said.

“The ways that transition metals operate on organic molecules is incredibly elegant,” he said. “I think that is especially true when there are no additional complications, and the species that they are ‘dancing’ with are very simple, like C-H bonds. I love the combination of the aesthetics and the huge potential benefits to society.”

Goldman said that these potential benefits include improving the Haber-Bosch catalysis, which is used to produce a synthetic fertilizer that is widely used by the agricultural industry. This process is responsible for major carbon emissions and is a thus large contributor to climate change, he said. 

His research aims to develop catalysts that use atmospheric nitrogen and water to produce ammonia, fulfilling agricultural needs while avoiding excessive carbon expenditure and providing more accessible production in remote areas, he said. 

Ying Fan Reinfelder, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and another 2021 fellow, said individuals must be nominated by three existing fellows in order to be considered for selection. Though she does not know who nominated her, she feels humbled and honored that they took the time to value her work, she said. 

Reinfelder’s research was recognized for its examination of the geologic history of the water cycle and how its evolution over time influenced changes to the land environment. She said that understanding changes in the water cycle is important in understanding how land ecosystems may cope with change. 

“My goal is to piece together, based on evidence preserved in sedimentary records and models built from first-principles, how the water cycle might have changed throughout earth history, and how it might have influenced the evolution of plants on land,” she said. 

Cecile Feldman, a professor at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine and another fellow, said the fellowship is an honor that many individuals strive for during their careers. The chosen researchers all come from diverse scientific backgrounds, which is both unusual and exciting, she said.

“The Association is really kind of unusual in that it covers all different kinds of scientific disciplines,” she said. “So it certainly makes it really exciting to be a part of the organization and helping to really move forward, advocating for scientists.”

Her work was showcased for addressing contemporary issues facing dental education, research and delivery of rural health care, according to the release. She said that her research primarily has two aspects: improving dental education programs and research.

Feldman said that she is currently running clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of over-the-counter painkillers in comparison to opioid painkillers. By doing so, she hopes to prevent unnecessary opioid prescription in the dentistry field, and therefore partially address the opioid crisis and related deaths, she said.

She also said that her research may be applicable to other areas of health care, but it may not yet provide a conclusive answer regarding the usage of one type of painkiller over the other. Though, emerging research has demonstrated that non-opioid painkillers are better than their opioid counterparts in some cases, she said.

Goldman said that while there are many scientific questions that remain unsolved, it is important to recognize those that have been answered, such as the existence of atoms or the minimal risks and many benefits of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines.

Feldman said that she also values the AAAS for its mission to advance and advocate for scientific causes, especially since she believes there was a lack of evidence-based decision-making during the country’s previous administration, which resulted in issues regarding the pandemic.

“Having an association that's out there advocating for science, trying to get people to understand how important it is to do things that are evidence-based … and communicating things in a way that the public can understand is something that's extremely important,” she said.


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