Abilene Christian University’s chemistry and biochemistry programs received a research grant from the Welch Foundation this year, marking more than 60 years of funding. This round is their highest award yet at $150,000 over the next three years.
The Welch Foundation supports chemistry research in Texas, and members of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have received grants from the foundation every year since 1961. Dr. Autumn Sutherlin, chair and professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said the funding further extends their outreach in research.
“This shows that the Welch Foundation sees the good work done by the faculty and students in our department and wants to enable us to do more,” Sutherlin said. “They believe we are using the resources that they give us well, and they know that we will do even more good work with more money. ACU Chemistry and Biochemistry has a reputation for training good chemists and biochemists, and this is one demonstration of that.”
The grants are used to support research performed by students and faculty. For ACU, the funds support the Summer Research Institute or SRI, an eight week summer program where students work full time alongside faculty members on research projects. Students then present their work at conferences within and outside ACU, and their work is sometimes published in peer-reviewed journals.
The grant funds also support student and faculty research during the school year, stipends for student interns and faculty, the purchase of chemicals needed for research projects, and travel to conferences.
“Research gives students the opportunity to put what they learn in the classroom and teaching labs to use answering new questions,” Sutherlin said. “It gives students the opportunity to further develop their skills in the lab and broadens their critical thinking skills. Research is a high-impact practice.”
ACU has received nine individual grants from the Welch Foundation, and the departmental grant has been renewed 12 times for a total of slightly under $3 million. In addition to Welch, ACU has received more than $2 million in funding from Eisenhower and Texas Teacher Quality grants to provide additional training and support for high school chemistry teachers. Chemistry and biochemistry faculty have also received funding for their work with ACU’s NEXT Lab. Dr. Kim Pamplin, professor of chemistry and senior chemist for NEXT, has been the lead investigator on infrastructure awards from the Department of Energy for the last two years for a total of $660,000.
During the last three cycles of funding from the Welch Foundation, ACU has been invited to apply for increased funding. In this cycle, their funding increased from $45,000 a year to $50,000 a year.
Since the departments have been using funding to support student research, they have had 115 graduates obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry, biochemistry or a related field. In addition, 175 graduates have gone on to be medical doctors, and 73 have received a master’s degree in chemistry, biochemistry or a related field.
“This again speaks to the importance of undergraduate research,” Sutherlin said. “These students, especially those that went on to receive master’s and Ph.Ds learned about research and gained a passion for it during their undergraduate careers. The Welch Foundation has helped make it possible for us to give students these experiences that are critical to their development as scientists.”
Learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
— Connor Mullins
Nov. 16, 2022