Associate professor receives U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Award

Ian A. Tonks

University of Minnesota Chemistry Associate Professor Ian A. Tonks in the College of Science and Engineering has received a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Research Program award. This highly-competitive national award provides support to exceptional researchers.

Tonks is among only 73 researchers nationwide and only 46 from universities selected to receive the award from the DOE Office of Science. The program, now in its 10th year, is designed to bolster the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work. University-based researchers will receive at least $150,000 for five years for their research.

To be eligible for the DOE award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory, who received a doctorate within the past 10 years.

“Supporting our nation’s most talented and creative researchers in their early career years is crucial to building America’s scientific workforce and sustaining America’s culture of innovation,” said Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “We congratulate these young researchers on their significant accomplishments to date and look forward to their achievements in the years ahead.”

Research Focus 

Tonks’ research for the DOE is aimed at coupling new, biorenewable chemical feedstocks into traditional petroleum-derived plastic syntheses. This strategy will lead to new and biodegradable advanced plastic materials with tunable properties. Tonks will use his expertise in catalysis to design new organometallic catalysts for these processes, which will also advance the basic understanding of how these catalytic polymerization reactions work.

Tonks’ research group also works on designing new chemical reactions using environmentally benign reagents and catalysts based on titanium and other early transition metals. His research program has garnered significant interest in both academia and industry. 

He has numerous peer-reviewed publications in top scientific journals, including Nature Chemistry, the Journal of the American Chemical SocietyAngewandte Chemie International EditionOrganometallics, and Nature Reviews Chemistry. Highly regarded in the scientific community, he has more than 75 invited presentations at national and international conferences, at university, and to industrial partners. He serves on the editorial advisory board for Organometallics, the top journal in his subdiscipline.

About Associate Professor Tonks

Tonks earned his bachelor's degree from Columbia University, and his doctorate at the California Institute of Technology. Before coming to the University of Minnesota, he was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

He has received a number of awards, including the 2019 ACS Organometallics Distinguished Author Award, a University of Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professorship for 2018-2020, a Thieme Chemistry journals award, an ACS Organic Division Academic Young Investigator Award, a 2017 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, and a National Institutes of Health Outstanding Investigator Award. Professor Tonks is now the recipient or co-recipient of major grants totaling more than $4 million from federal, state, and private agencies.

For more information, read the DOE news release.

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