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NSF Awards WWU Professor $430K for Algal Research

October 8, 2012
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg O’Neil

Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg O’Neil

Bellingham, Washington–based Western Washington University Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg O’Neil has been awarded a five-year, $430,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program in part for his continued research into the development of algae as a potential source for biofuels.

“This is one of the most prestigious awards young faculty members can receive; it’s unique in that not only does it support outstanding research but also combines an educational component, which is the integration of renewable energy topics into Western’s Chemistry curriculum and the university’s own energy initiatives,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil’s research focuses on developing strategies to combine cheap, simple chemicals into important complex structures found in nature. Part of this award will support the synthesis of lipids made by algae to see if these compounds can be converted into a fuel source.

O’Neil will be joined this academic year by three undergraduates on his research team, all of whom will be funded by the grant and participate in the research as part of a for-credit independent study: Josh Corliss (Vashon Island, Vashon Island High School), Aaron Culler, (Spokane, University High School), and John Williams (Battle Ground, Battle Ground High School).

“Everyone knows real cooking is about trial and error, and so is real chemistry,” said Culler. When a reaction produces unexpected results, as they usually do, I can draw upon the foundation of knowledge that I have built in the classroom and apply what I’ve learned in the lab. This has given me confidence, and, for hands-on learners like myself, a depth of understanding I couldn’t have found in the classroom alone,” he said.

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