Texas Tech University

Researcher Wins National Science Foundation CAREER Grant

Glenys Young

April 21, 2016


Michael Findlater is working to develop new sustainable catalysts.

Michael Findlater
Michael Findlater

Michael Findlater, an assistant professor in the Texas Tech University Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, has been awarded a five-year, $500,000 grant through the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program.

Findlater's research project is intended to develop new sustainable catalysts based upon Earth-abundant metals, specifically iron. The funding will go into effect Sept. 1.

“Some chemical reactions are slow; chemists can speed these up using catalysts,” Findlater said. “Catalysts are chemicals that speed up reactions but are not consumed by those reactions, so catalysts can be used over and over again. Thus, catalysts can make industrial processes cheaper and more environmentally friendly.”

One of the most common examples of catalysis occurs every time people drive their cars. The catalytic converter in a vehicle uses expensive metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium to catalyze the conversion of waste exhaust gases into less toxic chemicals. Using less expensive metals, in general, may help to decrease the cost of materials used on a daily basis, but scientists don't yet know what cheap metals will catalyze those reactions in the same way.


“Adoption of base-metal catalysts, like the ones we are working on, will provide economic benefits to almost every facet of modern life,” he said. “Soda bottles, textiles and fuels are just some of the products used in our everyday lives that rely on catalysis at some stage of their manufacturing process.”

Findlater said chemical catalysis drives economies both in the United States and worldwide, with about 35 percent of the world's gross domestic product arising from industrial processes involving catalysis.

“The National Science Foundation's CAREER award is a significant achievement for Michael and is a testament to the importance of the research program he has established at Texas Tech,” said Louisa Hope-Weeks, chairwoman of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. “With this award, Michael will be able to expand his research program in an area which is of critical importance to the nation.”

The CAREER Program is a foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars.

“These five-year awards are given as a testament to outstanding research and to support activities that integrate research and education,” said W. Brent Lindquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “The growing number of CAREER awards received by junior faculty at Texas Tech reflects our progress towards the goal of becoming a university nationally recognized for research and education.”