Professor Courtney Roberts receives NSF Career Award for group’s catalysis research

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (1/31/2023) – Assistant Professor Courtney Roberts has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award to support the ongoing catalysis research of the Roberts Group. The award amount of $770,000 will support the group’s development of new catalytic methods, as well as equitable higher education initiatives. 

The group’s research aims to address long-standing challenges associated with alkyl-alkyl cross-coupling, enabling redox chemistry through radical catalysis.  “Developing new catalytic methods to form bonds between two carbon atoms has the potential to impact many levels of society from agricultural chemistry to materials chemistry,” said Roberts in the proposal’s abstract. The research uses earth abundant and previously unutilized metals in groups 3 and 4 as catalysts for this transformation. These metals provide ideal reactivity but have not been used before for this reaction due to their electronic nature. 

NSF reviews of the research highlight the Roberts Group’s innovative approach and “extensive preliminary results presented that clearly demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed aims.” The award will also support ongoing efforts to overcome issues of engagement and equity in STEM higher education. Addressing grade disparities in underrepresented minority (URM) groups and cheMNext – a program that works to facilitate successful Ph.D. applications for URM groups – are two major pieces of the puzzle the Roberts Group is working on when it comes to educational plan development.

Founded in 2019, the Roberts Group is made up of 11 graduate students: Rana Abdu, Brylon Denman, Nick Garcia, Josh Gavin, Sofie Hokanson, Jenna Humke, Sallu Kargbo, Erin Plasek, Chris Seong, Victoria Tafuri, Alex Umanzor; 1 postdoctoral associate Roman Belli; and 1 undergraduate student Lars Anderson. Roberts herself joined the UMN Chemistry faculty as an assistant professor in summer 2019 after completing her postdoctoral research under Melanie Sanford at the University of Michigan and Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The group centers diversity, inclusivity, and radical candor in everything they do.