Two UH Chemists Receive National Recognition

Two University of Houston chemistry professors will receive one of their field’s highest honors for career achievements, joining an elite club that includes some of the nation’s leading chemists.

Rigoberto Advincula and Mamie Moy are among the 2010 class of American Chemical Society Fellows and will be honored along with the 190 other inductees at a ceremony next week during the annual ACS meeting in Boston.

The ACS, with more than 150,000 members, is the world’s largest scientific society. The Fellows program was started in 2009 to recognize outstanding contributions to science and the chemistry profession.

Advincula and Moy are among only 13 from Texas who received the honor this year. At 42, Advincula is one of the younger honorees but has already compiled an impressive record as a leading polymer and nanomaterials researcher. Moy, UH’s longest-serving tenured faculty member, has devoted her 55 year faculty career to teaching and cultivating a love of science – not just among the college students and UH alums who fondly remember her classes but also with Houston’s public school youngsters and teachers.

Advincula was nominated for the distinction by John Bear, dean of UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and a fellow chemist. Bear praised Advincula’s work as a renowned scholar and as a mentor to young scientists.

Advincula’s research involves the design and fabrication of polymers and nanomaterials, which includes nanocomposites. These new hybrid materials could be used in a variety of applications, from chemical sensors, improving LED display screens or better control of energy transfer in solar cells.

For example, in past projects Advincula and his team have devised new polymer coatings that could improve the brightness and flexibility of display screens on cell phones, PDA’s and other devices.

Recently, Advincula was awarded a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to experiment using lithography and “polymer brushes” to make unconventionally-shaped colloids, which are particles dispersed in solution. The goal is to learn how to make colloids of any shape, size or composition.

This would be a foundational breakthrough in nanomaterials, Advincula said, allowing scientists to create new types of microscopic particles. In addition to his lab research, Advincula has been active in ACS, giving presentations, organizing symposia and serving on the editorial advisory board of two highly-regarded ACS peer-reviewed journals.

Advincula also has a strong record of mentoring young chemists. As a research advisor he has supervised nearly three dozen Ph.D. students, as well as 50 undergraduates.

“Professor Advincula has distinguished himself internationally as a creative, dedicated and highly renowned scientist and scholar with a commitment to service and mentoring,” Bear said.

Unlike Advincula, Moy could consider the ACS honor a career capstone – except the longtime professor has no plans of slowing down. UH has changed a lot since Moy joined the chemistry faculty in 1955, but her passion for teaching science has not dimmed. In particular, Moy has sought to kindle an interest in science among Houston-area youth, giving lessons, presentations and hands-on chemistry demonstrations to local schools.

“Its all about making science fun,” Moy said.

She conducts science workshops for classroom teachers, sharing tips on how to make abstract scientific concepts interesting and relevant to their students. Moy also directs the Robert Welch Foundation Summer Scholars program, which brings some of the brightest high school students to UH for a hands-on summer research experience.

Moy was nominated to be an ACS Fellow by Carolyn Burnley, past chair of the Greater Houston Section of the ACS, in which Moy has long been active. Burnley lauded Moy’s service and leadership in the local chapter, including co-chairing a successful regional meeting of the ACS in 2006.

“Her long career and extensive contributions to chemistry and education exemplifies the spirit of this award,” said Kerry Spilker, a Chevron research scientist and chair of the local ACS chapter who has worked with Moy on numerous outreach projects and wrote a letter in support of her nomination.

Moy also served as associate chair of the chemistry department in the 1970’s and 80’s under then-chair John Bear, overseeing undergraduate and graduate programs. During this time, chemistry became one of UH’s premier departments through a significant increase in research funding, teaching fellowships and top faculty hires.

In 2008, Moy was honored for work as an advocate and trailblazer for women scientists and was named a “Texas Woman of Distinction” by the West Harris County Branch of the American Association of University Women.

Moy appreciates being recognized along with such distinguished figures in chemistry, but says it’s the enjoyment and fulfillment in her day-to-day work that keeps her going.

“Being around young people keeps you young, so I plan to keep working as long as I can,” Moy said.