UH Chemistry Professor Wins Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

Research in dynamics of electron transfer between organic molecules has captured a Guggenheim Fellowship for a University of Houston chemistry professor who joins an illustrious group of past recipients that includes numerous Nobel, Pulitzer and other award winners.  

Eric Bittner, associate professor of chemistry, was among 189 scientists, artists and scholars named 2007 Fellows by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Bittner was one of only two chemists in the United States and Canada selected for a fellowship this year. Geri Richmond of the University of Oregon was the other winner in chemistry.

Bittner’s fellowship will allow him to spend part of the 2007-2008 academic year at Cambridge University, where he will work with Sir Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics, and the Optical Electronic Group. Friend is a pioneer in the field of polymer optoelectronics.

“We’ve collaborated loosely on various fundamental issues regarding how light emitting diodes and photovoltaic cells based upon organic polymers, or plastics, emit or absorb light,” Bittner said.

The foundation appoints Fellows based on past distinguished achievement and exceptional promise of future accomplishment. Its board of directors approved the recommendations of hundreds of expert advisors in selecting this year’s recipients from among nearly 2,900 applications. Awards totaled $7.6 million for an average of about $40,200. The foundation has awarded in excess of $256 million to more than 16,250 people since 1925.

Although Bittner submitted an application, including a proposal of how he would use the grant, and secured nomination letters from previous Fellows and experts in his field, he was “quite shocked” to learn of his selection.

“One typically doesn’t expect awards, especially considering the amazing list of previous recipients,” he said. “The list of Fellows is a list of the most outstanding members of almost any academic, scientific or artistic field. I’m quite honored and humbled to be included on that list.”

Previous winners include Linus Pauling, 1954 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, as well as such household names as Ansel Adams, W.H. Auden, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Philip Roth and Eudora Welty.

“We had a bit of a celebration,” Bittner said of his family. “I’m really looking forward to celebrating once we get to Cambridge. My two boys will likely attend part of the third grade in the United Kingdom, which will be an awesome experience for them. They’re already learning to play cricket.”

John L. Bear, dean of the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said receiving the award reflects favorably on Bittner, the college and the university.

“To receive a Guggenheim Fellowship when only two were given in the U.S. and Canada for chemistry is a true honor for Eric, and it also speaks highly of the caliber of faculty in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and UH,” Bear said.

Bittner, 41, came to UH in 1997. He earned a bachelor of science in chemistry and physics at Valparaiso (Indiana) University in 1988 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1994. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas from 1994-96 and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University from 1996-97. He received an NSF Career Award in chemistry in 1999.

He is serving a three-year term on the Committee on Careers and Professional Development of the American Physical Society. At UH, he serves as a faculty mentor to Assistant Professor Malavosklish (Liz) Bikram in the College of Pharmacy as part of the university’s Women’s Resource Center.

According to a list of previous recipients, Bittner is the first UH scientist named as a Fellow in 18 years, although a number of former recipients are or have been associated with the university.  Edward Hirsch, a well-known poet and former professor of English at UH, is president of the Guggenheim Foundation and was a 1985 Fellow.

NSM faculty who are past recipients are Neal Amundson, Cullen Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, 1954 and 1975; Larry Kevan (deceased), Cullen Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, 1969; Donald Kouri, Cullen Distinguished Professor of Physics, 1978; Simon Moss, emeritus professor of physics, 1968; Carlos Ordonez, associate professor of physics, 1989; and Roy Weinstein, professor of physics, 1969.

Others past recipients from UH include Carlisle Floyd, composer and emeritus professor of music, 1956; George Krause, emeritus professor of photography, 1967 and 1976; Cynthia McDonald, poet and professor of English, 1983; W. Jackson Rushing III, professor of art history, 2003; and Roger Wertheimer, professor of philosophy, 1973.

Sandria Hu, artist and professor of art at UH Clearlake, was a 1974 Fellow.