Two Colby professors have received nearly a half million dollars in National Science Foundation grants to support their critical research in chemistry and geology. The grants are further recognition of Colby’s top-notch research and the College’s strong tradition of faculty-student collaboration.

Professor of Chemistry Jeffrey Katz was awarded $227,796 for his lab’s investigation of methods that can allow for the creation of helicenes. These screw-shaped synthetic molecules have potential applications as sensors, organic electronics, and new polymers.

Professor of Geology Robert Gastaldo will receive $249,533 to study the largest mass extinction on Earth, 252 million years ago. As climate change science has sparked concern about rates of extinction, knowledge of the processes that occurred in the past will help identify the reasons behind major changes in flora and fauna.

“Colby’s scientists—faculty and students—work year round to answer some of the world’s biggest questions. We’re delighted by this recognition and support of our research in chemistry and geology,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Margaret McFadden.

Katz had six students working in his lab this summer, several on the study of helicenes. “While examples of helicenes have been known for decades, students on this project will seek to make previously inaccessible examples of these compounds for new applications,” Katz said.

“I am delighted,” he said. “This funding serves the dual role of allowing us to continue our investigations of important problems in organic chemical synthesis, while also supporting an exceptional undergraduate research environment for Colby students.”

The award (Katz’s fifth NSF grant) will also support travel to national organic chemistry conferences for his students.

Gastaldo has worked closely with student researchers, including geology majors Kaci Kus ’18 and Sam Sinkler ’18, who spent nearly a month in South Africa this year, gathering information for their senior independent study.

“With Earth now facing the possibility of its sixth mass extinction, we only can learn about how global ecosystems have responded to past catastrophe by looking into the paleontological record,” said Gastaldo. The grant—his 18th in a lifetime of work—will help “detail the changes on land of the plants and animals over the course of Earth’s greatest loss in biodiversity,” he said.