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Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal

by Cheryl Hogue
February 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 5

Credit: Courtesy of Susan Kauzlarich
Susan M. Kauzlarich
Credit: Courtesy of Susan Kauzlarich

Sponsored by the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal Endowment

Seminars on what was then a relatively obscure group of compounds—Zintl phases—intrigued Susan M. Kauzlarich during her postdoctoral work at Iowa State University. At that time, the mid-1980s, most research on Zintl phases was confined to Germany.

“Here was this whole classification of compounds that people in the U.S. had pretty much overlooked,” says Kauzlarich, who is now 54 and a chemistry professor at the University of California, Davis. “I proposed that I could take this classification and add transition metals so I could get some interesting magnetic and electronic properties.”

Kauzlarich’s idea has proven successful. Her research over the past 25 years has shown, among other things, that Zintl phases can be made magnetic and are effective materials for thermoelectric power generation. Her work has drawn chemists throughout the world to the study of these compounds.

Zintl phases are not the only area of research for her group. Kauzlarich’s lab is also developing solution synthesis of metal-doped silicon nanoparticles as medical probes for magnetic resonance imaging.

Another key part of Kauzlarich’s work at UC Davis is mentoring. Among other honors, Kauzlarich has received a U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring.

Stephanie L. Brock, a chemistry professor at Wayne State University, says Kauzlarich has made an impact on the field of chemistry through her mentoring of those underrepresented in science, notably women and minority students.

Brock, who was a graduate student under Kauzlarich, says her former adviser leads by example and “reaches out and provides advice and insight. She’s very free and giving with her time.”

Kauzlarich doesn’t just mentor—she helps her graduate students learn these skills as they themselves mentor undergraduates and high school students. The graduate students learn to communicate what excites them about chemistry and why research is so important, Kauzlarich says.

In 1989, she initiated the ACS Project SEED summer program for economically disadvantaged high school students at UC Davis. “When high schoolers get jazzed about chemistry,” she says, “you feel like you’ve made a big difference.”

She knows firsthand about getting excited about chemistry as a teenager. Kauzlarich credits the enthusiasm of a chemistry teacher at her high school with sparking her interest in the subject.

When Kauzlarich enrolled as an undergraduate at the College of William & Mary, she had already decided to major in chemistry and planned to become a high school chemistry teacher. But her career goal changed after she interviewed high school teachers as part of a project for a sociology course. One of those teachers urged Kauzlarich to instruct at the college level.

“She pointed out that there aren’t very many women in college teaching,” Kauzlarich says. Realizing she could make an impact in the field, she left that interview thinking, “Wow, that really is a good idea.”

Kauzlarich went on to earn a doctorate at Michigan State University, where she studied materials chemistry. She did her post-graduate work at Iowa State University with inorganic solid-state chemist John D. Corbett, an experience that she says inspired her work in synthesis and the creation of novel materials.

Kauzlarich will present the award address before the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry.


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