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Jacobs, Schoop Receive NSF CAREER Awards

Awards- - By Wendy Plump

Department of Chemistry assistant professors William Jacobs and Leslie Schoop have each been awarded five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Materials Research, the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty.

CAREER grants are awarded to tenure-track faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, and to lead advances in the mission of their institutions, according to the grant citations. Activities pursued by early-career faculty must build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership that integrates education and research.

Funding begins this month for both Jacobs and Schoop.

Will Jacobs

Assistant Professor Will Jacobs, winner of a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. 

Photo by C. Todd Reichart

Jacobs, who joined the faculty in 2019, earned the grant for his proposal, Programmable Control of Biomolecular Condensate Self-Assembly. The proposal reinforces a core mission of his lab: understanding the mechanisms of biological self-assembly.

“We’ll be particularly thinking about one type of self-organization principle in biology, the formation of condensates. Condensates are a form of organization where proteins and nucleic acids co-localize,” said Jacobs. “This is a ubiquitous organization scheme – the more we look, the more we find. Understanding what is controlling exactly which molecules end up in each structure, and also when and where these structures form, is crucial for controlling what biological functions arise from them.

“The part of this problem that my project addresses is understanding how this works with a very large number of different types of biomolecules,” Jacobs added. “It’s more of a systems-level organization, and that’s a much more complicated problem to address than what happens with a single molecule.”

As part of the educational component required by the NSF for this award, Jacobs will iteratively update two newly developed courses to become part of the core chemistry curriculum.

Leslie Schoop

Assistant Professor Leslie Schoop, winner of a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.

Photo by C. Todd Reichart

Schoop, now in her fifth year with Princeton Chemistry, was selected for her proposal Quantum Materials in Square-Net Based Compounds. She will undertake a systematic study of these compounds, expanding on a foundation laid down by research published in Science Advances (2020) and Advanced Materials (2021).

“What we’ve found is that materials in which atoms are arranged to form a square net in one layer come with some very exotic physics, some very exciting properties,” said Schoop. “So the idea here is to do a much more systematic study of not only where this comes from, but how many of these compounds we can make in the systems and how the properties vary.

“Then, basically, from all of this empirical data that we collect, we can devise a deeper understanding about what is possible with these types of materials. This should resolve a lot of the questions we still have.”

For her lab’s outreach, Schoop will devise layman’s lectures on quantum materials and research on solid-state materials to be delivered at local community colleges. She will also welcome a community college undergraduate to work in her lab this summer.

Approximately 500 CAREER grants are awarded by the NSF each year.