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Bart M. Bartlett

A laboratory enthusiast from a young age, this ACS Scholar is living his professional dream

by A. Maureen Rouhi
September 27, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 39

Credit: Courtesy of Bart Bartlett
Bartlett poses with a fuel-cell-powered car that he uses to demonstrate energy concepts in the classroom.
Credit: Courtesy of Bart Bartlett
Bartlett poses with a fuel-cell-powered car that he uses to demonstrate energy concepts in the classroom.

Not everyone knows right after high school how they want their career to unfold. Fewer people still can make what they dream happen, but Bart M. Bartlett did. “Upon graduation, he told me he was going to be a chemistry professor,” recalls Peggy E. Lathrop, a science teacher at Metro Academic & Classical High School, in St. Louis. “And I knew he would become his dream because of the drive and dedication to learning that was an integral part of his being.”

“I love this job,” Bartlett tells C&EN about being an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a job he started in July 2008. His research group focuses on inorganic synthesis of materials for applications in renewable energy. It currently includes four undergrads, five graduate students, and two postdocs. “I love being able to work with young people every day,” he says. “They are the ones who are in the lab and make science happen.”

Bartlett’s journey to a chemistry professorship began in elementary school: “I liked doing and making stuff,” he recalls. “We had to do science projects, and I genuinely liked it,” he says, noting that neither of his parents had the science background to help with the experiments. And at Metro High, chemistry was his favorite subject. “The lab aspect of science is what really got me hooked,” he explains. “You not only learn concepts, but you also see things happen right in front of your eyes.”

A summer research stint in a genetics lab further strengthened the appeal of the lab. With Lathrop’s help, Bartlett participated in the Young Scientists Program at Washington University School of Medicine. “It was my first real lab experience,” he recalls. “It got me to understand that chemistry is not about someone wearing big goggles and a lab coat and bubbling solutions in a basement somewhere; it is not isolating at all.” For Bartlett, seeing that people work together on a day-to-day basis in a lab environment was important, he says, because “I like being around people.”

The experience helped cement his decision to major in chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis. Encouraged by his undergraduate research adviser, William E. Buhro, Bartlett applied to the ACS Scholars Program, which provides up to $5,000 of assistance per year to members of underrepresented groups who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry or related fields. Buhro “saw it as an opportunity to get connected to the chemistry community,” Bartlett recalls, and the money helped support the young student during his junior and senior years. He graduated summa cum laude in 2000.

Working in the lab is much different, however, from leading a research group and establishing an independent academic research career. Bartlett credits Daniel G. Nocera, his Ph.D. adviser at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with preparing him well for the task ahead. Nocera “was fully transparent in showing me what it takes” to be a chemistry professor, Bartlett says. “By the time I started the job, there were no surprises. I understood—just from being around him and seeing how he interacted with the group, how he brought students in on paper writing, grant writing—all the things that I now have to do by myself.”

Now responsible for his own research group, Bartlett believes strongly in bringing young people into the broader science community to get them excited about science. The ACS Scholars Program is “a great way to show undergraduates that we want them in the community early,” he says, “and often,” referring to their attendance at ACS national meetings, which the program makes possible for its scholars.

As Bartlett continues the journey of his career, those who nurtured his love for science and the lab will be cheering him on. “He was and still is dedicated to learning more each day,” even under difficult circumstances, Lathrop says. “I remember him sitting in the classroom of a converted office building that lacked all of the facilities that other schools could provide for science classes, so he learned to work with less and was able to achieve more.”


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