The award recognizes Popp’s development of new methods utilizing carbon dioxide reactions to prepare chemicals for manufacturing pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and other materials. His research uses both experimental and computational methods to understand how carbon dioxide reactions work and how to improve their efficiency.
“Essentially, we are interested in using this abundant resource, carbon dioxide, in a way that is economically valuable,” Popp said. “In this way, we can make products that were prepared from a more energy intensive process previously and make them in a more energetically friendly and sustainable fashion.”
Popp and his team of seven WVU graduate students hope to lay the groundwork for the types of reactions that could be scaled up and yield commodity feedstocks to decrease their dependency on oil.
“We are identifying how chemicals react and finding novel mechanisms that either make them react under milder conditions or make them react in ways that have not yet been observed,” Popp said.
Through the NSF CAREER award, Popp is also pursuing educational activities to increase the quality and quantity of U.S. scientists, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. Specific initiatives include enhancing the university experience for WVU student veterans interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
“The veteran population at WVU is around 1,000 students. Veterans bring different experiences and a sense of maturity to campus,” Popp said. “Many of them will come to WVU with significant real-world training in STEM disciplines. However, they don’t necessarily have opportunities to use that training at the beginning of their academic career and they run the risk of getting lost in large STEM lecture courses.”
Popp hopes to inspire student veterans by interacting with them not only in the classroom but getting them involved in research.
“If I can involve veterans in my laboratory’s research, it might help them to establish relationships with graduate and upper-level undergraduate students and chemistry faculty that will ultimately give them a home within the university that feels more personal and rewarding,” Popp said.
The NSF’s CAREER award recognizes promising and talented early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.
“This is an outstanding and well-deserved recognition for (Popp),” said Gregory Dudley, chair of the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry and Eberly Family Distinguished Professor. “This type of award helps propel young faculty to the next levels of scholarship and service. We look forward to many years of outstanding contributions from (Popp).”