Dr. Andy A Thomas, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been selected to receive the 2021 Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award recognizing his research accomplishments and career potential.
Thomas is one of 35 nationwide recipients of the prestigious award, which provides $5,000 in seed money to fund research conducted by junior faculty at ORAU member institutions. The one-year grants are matched by the member institutions and intended to enrich the research and professional growth of young faculty in the early stages of tenure-track positions in any of five science and technology disciplines: engineering or applied science; life sciences; mathematics and computer science; physical sciences; and policy, management or education.
Thomas joined the Texas A&M faculty in 2020 after obtaining his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017 and completing a three-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research program at Texas A&M is focused on using physical organic chemistry to develop new chemical reactions and catalyst transfer polymerization reactions by investigating the chemical reactivity of highly reactive intermediates using rapid injection NMR spectroscopy. Thomas is an international expert in rapid injection NMR spectroscopy and, as such, has one of only two such instruments in the world.
“One of the reasons Andy’s work is so important is because it answers fundamental questions about chemical reactions that allow chemists to logically predict and modify their reaction conditions,” said Dr. Simon W. North, professor and head of Texas A&M Chemistry. “Building upon his physical organic chemistry background, he has launched an innovative research program here at Texas A&M that is destined not only to advance our fundamental understanding of chemistry, but also to provide solutions to long-standing problems in the organic electronics and pharmaceutical industries.”
As a graduate student at Illinois, Thomas used his expertise in physical organic chemistry and chemical kinetics to unravel the mechanism of numerous highly debated organometallic transformations. During his NIH fellowship at MIT, he pioneered the development of a new class of hybrid ligands for use in carbon-nitrogen bond forming processes — a breakthrough poised to greatly improve the day-to-day pursuits of medicinal chemists. His work to date has resulted in more than a dozen peer-reviewed publications, including his sole co-author classic in the prestigious interdisciplinary journal Science on the structure and mechanism of the Nobel Prize-winning Suzuki-Miyaura reaction.
In combination with departmental matching funding, the Powe Award will help Thomas further his research program in mechanistic polymer chemistry. Specifically, his program seeks to better understand the key ring walking step in catalyst transfer polymerizations.
“Andy has founded an impressive research laboratory in the midst of the COVID pandemic and its additional, unforeseen barriers,” North said. “He has also initiated collaborations within the Chemistry Department to understand initiation rates for polymerization reactions and already received exemplary teaching reviews for his graduate synthesis course. This award will provide the critical support he needs to obtain the preliminary mechanistic data necessary to make catalyst transfer polymerization reactions — a core area of his research program — successful.”
ORAU, located in the heart of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is a consortium of major Ph.D.-granting academic institutions designed to cultivate collaborative partnerships that enhance the scientific research and education enterprise in our nation. Founded by William G. Pollard in 1946, the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies (ORINS), now known as ORAU, developed as a support system for both the federal government and 14 southern universities.
Today, ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
To learn more about Thomas and his research, visit https://www.aathomasgroup.com/.
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