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ACS Award For Research At An Undergraduate Institution

by Susan J. Ainsworth
January 14, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 2

Credit: Trinity U
Nancy S. Mills, Murchison Professor of Chemistry at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
Credit: Trinity U

Sponsored by Research Corporation for Science Advancement

It was her own experience as an undergraduate, working alongside chemistry professor Gene Wubbels at Grinnell College in the late 1970s, that sparked Nancy S. Mills’s lifelong passion for promoting just that sort of collaboration. As a result of that opportunity, “I was convinced that a career in chemistry would be fun and knew that I wanted to work at an undergraduate college where I could balance teaching and research,” says Mills, 63, Murchison Professor of Chemistry at Trinity University in San Antonio.

Today Mills is “an exemplar teacher and scholar,” according to Steven M. Bachrach, Trinity’s Dr. D. R. Semmes Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and its assistant vice president for special projects. “Her passion and enthusiasm for chemical research is infectious, igniting an interest in science among Trinity students for the past 35 years.”

Mills has studied aromatic and antiaromatic compounds while working alongside her undergraduate students. Over the past decade, her group has focused on the synthesis and characterization of dications that express varying degrees of anti­aromatic character, Bachrach notes. Recently, Mills has extended these studies to include anionic species.

She has published more than 50 scholarly articles, most of which included her students as coauthors, notes Michael M. Haley, professor of chemistry and head of the chemistry department at the University of Oregon. When Mills took a sabbatical in his lab from 2008 to 2009, he witnessed her gift for collaborating with undergraduates, he says. “Mills is a careful, thoughtful, and exuberant mentor and teacher.”

To support her research with her undergraduate students, Mills has procured funding from the National Science Foundation, the Welch Foundation, the ACS Petroleum Research Fund, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation.

After receiving a B.A. in chemistry and American studies at Grinnell in 1972, Mills earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Arizona in 1976 and completed a postdoc at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. After a two-year stint as an assistant professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., Mills joined the Trinity faculty in 1979.

In recognition of her accomplishments in teaching and research, Mills received the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Teaching Excellence & Campus Leadership Award in 1990. She also received Trinity’s Z. T. Scott Faculty Fellowship for Teaching & Service in 1992 and its Distinguished Achievement Award in Scholarship in 2007 and was appointed a Murchison Professor in 2011. In addition, Mills was named a Camille & Henry Dreyfus Scholar in 1995, a Piper Professor by the State of Texas in 1999, a Council on Undergraduate Research Fellow in 2006, an ACS Fellow in 2011, and an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow in 2011.

Mills says she is honored to have received this year’s accolade from ACS. The award, she says, recognizes that high-quality research can be done at undergraduate institutions—an idea she has been promoting since the start of her career. “I love teaching in the classroom, but I also love the depth of interaction that occurs with students in the research lab,” she says. Another plus, she adds: Conducting research “also offers me opportunities for intellectual renewal.”

Mills will present the award address before the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry.


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