The development of nonmetal, environmentally friendly catalysts is a relatively new area of chemical research, and with a major grant from the National Science Foundation, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Stacey E. Brenner-Moyer can make some critical advancements in this emerging field.

Brenner-Moyer was awarded the NSF’s 2012 Faculty Early Career Development grant for junior faculty, which comes with a monetary incentive of $450,000.

“This is great news for myself and the college,” Brenner-Moyer said after hearing the good news.

The NSF website explains that “the Faculty Early Career Development Program … offers the foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

A nascent research field, organo-catalysis scarcely dates back to the turn of the 21st century. Unlike the more commonly used metallic catalysts, organic catalysts are considered safer for the environment. A catalyst is a chemical agent that helps another substance to trigger a specific reaction, analogous to the way enzymes works as catalysts in organisms to accelerate the transformation of one substance into another, such as grape juice into wine.

According to Brenner-Moyer, scientists working on organo-catalysis are trying to ensure that these new catalysts can generate multiple reactions in one flask — a process known as cascade reactions, something more traditional catalysts cannot necessarily achieve. These cascade reactions improve the efficiency of the overall chemical process. Developing medicinal compounds is the more common application of catalysts.

“They are also safer to use in academic laboratories,” adds Brenner-Moyer, who joined Brooklyn College in 2006. “It allows us to operate in greener laboratories, as it reduces both waste and the amount of energy needed to create a reaction.”