Chemistry professor honored as Cottrell Scholar
Henry Gens | Tuesday, March 26, 2013
The Research Corporation for Science Advancement Chemistry (RCSA) recently named Notre Dame professor Zachary Schultz one of 13 Cottrell Scholars for 2013, a prestigious early-career award recognizing excellence in teaching and research in the physical sciences.
The RCSA is a philanthropic foundation that provides science funding for top early-career teacher-scholars.
“It’s nice because the Cottrell Scholar award is from people who have succeeded, recognizing what I’m trying to do is important,” Schultz said. “It’s confirmation from the outside community that I’m on the right track.”
Schultz said his research currently focuses on developing analytical instrumentation for biomedical applications. Scientists use these novel methods to understand diseases such as diabetes and cancer by characterizing molecules on the surface of cells and honing in on micro-particles shed from distressed cells into the bloodstream.
Schultz said the research he accumulates in his labs outlines how he tries to teach his classes for undergraduate chemistry majors.
“In my instrumental analysis course, one of the requirements is a term project using actual state-of-the-art chemical instrumentation on campus to answer a research question,” Schultz said.
Promoting undergraduate science education is one of the key components of the Cottrell Scholar selection criteria and something Schultz said he actively seeks to encourage.
“In the course I teach, I allow them to choose whatever question they want to answer because if they choose something that they’re interested in then they’ll be much more engaged in learning,” Schultz said. “The result is a pretty diverse range of projects over the two years I’ve taught this, from imaging the roughness of finishes to quantifying caffeine content in soft drinks.”
The Cottrell Scholar recognition includes a $75,000 monetary award split over three years, Schultz said. He said this will then enable him to pay some of his undergraduate students to work in his lab over the summer.
“I tell [my students], ‘If you’re going to work for me in the summer, you’re going to get paid because people get paid to do science,'” Schultz said.
Schultz said the students were one of the main reasons he chose to join Notre Dame’s faculty in 2009. “It’s always fun to work with bright students and the University is heading in a really positive direction in terms of pushing science and science education,” he said.
Although Schultz said Notre Dame has only recently begun focusing more on science initiatives, he said science has always been a part of the University’s history.
“One of the stories I always tell people is about how Knute Rockne was a part-time football coach and part-time graduate student in chemistry,” Schultz said. “He gave up chemistry to pursue football full-time and I think that worked out all right for him. But it just shows that science has always been an integral part of the University.”
Schultz said he discovered he wanted to pursue a career in research when he was a sophomore at Ohio State University.
“I was initially a pre-med student, but I didn’t enjoy dealing with sick people very much,” Schultz said. “I found doing research to be fun and when I realized you could actually do that for a living, the choice was pretty clear.”