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Chemistry Professor Captures Prestigious Science Foundation Grant

Dr. Jennifer Aitken, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Duquesne, has earned a prestigious $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to play a role in basic science research in the field of semiconductors while helping to prepare a new generation of scientists.

This NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program grant for young faculty who have not yet received tenure considers scholarship, the impact of the work and the research exposure offered to graduate and undergraduate students. These extremely competitive grants are intended to lay the foundation for a lifetime of research and education by professors who are expected to become academic leaders of the 21st century.

“This is the type of grant where we’re up against MIT, Harvard and Berkeley,” Aitken said. “We’re in the same mix as the top chemical programs; we’re not in a different tier just because we have a smaller graduate school. The NSF looks for people who fit the teacher-scholar model. They want to make sure that students will actually learn from this.”

The NSF grant process weighs whether students are exposed to an intensive research experience and thus, are better equipped for future jobs in government, academics, pharmaceutical and chemical laboratory careers. Students and their work were key in obtaining the data that Aitken used in submitting her proposal for Chemistry with Simple Tetrahedral Building Blocks: Synthesis and Study of Bulk and Nanocrystalline Diamond-Like Semiconductors with Novel Optical and Magnetic Properties.

These diamond-like semiconductors are believed to have unique optical and magnetic characteristics that could have potential use in many technologies, including integrated circuit cards, missile control and quantum computing, Aitken said. Her five-year grant, which will provide funding through March 2012, focuses on pushing these semiconductors to both process data and store data.

By doing double duty, these semiconductors could miniaturize existing high-tech devices. “It goes along with all devices getting smaller,” Aitken said. “Whatever you put inside there, you want to do more than one job.”

The work funded by this grant could have impact in medical and optical fields.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.