ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 84 Issue 1 | p. 29 | Awards
Issue Date: January 2, 2006

ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution

Department: ACS News
Credit: Photo By Rick Heldrich
Credit: Photo By Rick Heldrich

Sponsored by Research Corporation

For 34 years, Charles F. Beam Jr., 65, has been following up his good academic preparation with a lot of hard work. In 1968, he completed his Ph.D. in organic chemistry under William J. Bailey at the University of Maryland, College Park, fully expecting to follow a traditional academic research career.

To that end, he accepted a postdoctoral position with Charles R. Hauser at Duke University, staying three years at Hauser's request. But employment opportunities for technically trained persons were, in Beam's words, "very bleak." Beam then accepted a one-year postdoctoral position with Ned D. Heindel at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.

By 1972, the employment situation had improved somewhat, and Beam accepted a position in Newberry College's chemistry department. He stayed at this South Carolina undergraduate institution for 10 years.

Beam still wanted to do research in his field of synthetic organic chemistry and believed he could, even at an undergraduate institution. For 10 years at Newberry, he conducted his research, but, instead of graduate students, he had undergraduate and several high school students working with him.

When more opportunities and additional instrumentation beckoned, Beam moved to the chemistry department at the College of Charleston, in South Carolina. And for the past 24 years, Beam has continued to show that undergraduates and a few high school students could work with faculty to initiate and complete research projects. In fact, Beam says, "the more I've involved my students in my research, the better the research has gotten and the more I and they have enjoyed it."

Undergraduate research is becoming a widely accepted and important component of teaching. Although faculty may propose the project, the student becomes an active partner in completing it.

Beam has mentored more than 125 students, teaching them the basics of synthetic methods and the use of analytical instruments. Most of his students have gone to graduate and professional schools, and a few have found jobs in industry.

As Beam notes, "There has been more emphasis on and appreciation and funding for undergraduate research in the past 10 to 15 years." He has received external funding of more than $750,000 over the past 34 years from such sources as the National Science Foundation, the Petroleum Research Fund and Project SEED, the American Heart Association, Research Corporation, and others. His research has culminated in more than 85 papers, with most of them having student coauthors.

A lot of his research has charted multiple anion synthetic pathways whose resulting products are candidate materials for additional syntheses, spectral studies, and X-ray crystal structure analysis. Most of the products have biological potential, and many have been screened.

In 1990, Beam received the Distinguished Research Award of the College of Charleston. Ten years later, he received the ACS South Carolina Section's Chemist of the Year Award, the only person at an undergraduate institution so honored. Also, in 2000, he received the Outstanding Achievement Award of the School of Sciences & Mathematics, College of Charleston. This was followed by the Governor's Award for Excellence in Science for Outstanding Achievements in Science Awareness in 2003.

As his College of Charleston chemistry department colleague Frederick J. Heldrich says, what makes Beam's career so notable "is not the fact that he has done undergraduate research, but that he has lived and breathed it his entire career under both favorable and challenging conditions."

The award address will be presented before the Division of Organic Chemistry.—Lois Ember

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