Headshots of Samy El-Shall and Nicholas Farrell

Chemistry Faculty Receive $200,000 in State-Funded Research Grants

Chemistry chair Dr. Samy El-Shall and Professor Nicholas Farrell were each awarded $100,000 grants from the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced early this month. These prestigious awards support Virginia research in high-potential areas of study with commercial promise including advanced manufacturing, cyber security, energy, water quality, information technology, life sciences, and unmanned systems.

“The Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund has provided funding to Virginia’s innovators at critical points in their research, helping them find solutions to important state, national and international problems,” said Governor McAuliffe. “These awards will contribute to the Commonwealth’s growing leadership position in technology innovation and research excellence, while generating significant long-term economic benefits and growing the new Virginia economy.”

El-Shall received funding for his research into the “Development of Highly Effective Materials for the Conversion of Solar Energy into Heat for Domestic Water Heating and Solar Water Desalination.” His laboratory has developed several methods for the synthesis of graphene, the world’s strongest, lightest, and first 2-dimensional material, with metal and semiconductor nanoparticles. They’ve found that laser irradiation of graphene oxide, an oxidized form of graphene laced with oxygen-containing groups, in water results in a strong photothermal energy conversion that can be used for the effective conversion of solar energy into usable heat. This grant will fund their current work, coupling the photothermal effects of the graphene oxide  with nanoparticles such as gold, silver and copper and thermoplastic polymers in order to develop highly effective materials for the conversion of solar energy into heat for a variety of thermal, thermochemical, and biochemical applications.

Farrell won funding to support his research into “Dual Function Anti-Metastatic Agents for Triple Negative Breast Cancer Treatment.” Farrell’s work focuses on the role of metal complexes in biology and medicine, specifically the application of metal-based drugs in cancer treatment. He’s the author of three books on the use of inorganic materials in medicine and cancer therapy and in 2011 published a paper on the development of platinum formulations as anticancer drugs.

“The projects funded through this program have the potential to create solutions for some of the most pressing issues we face today.” said Karen Jackson, Virginia’s Secretary of Technology. “As we continue to build the new Virginia economy, investments in the commercialization of new technologies is a catalyst for new company development and job creation for future generations.”

The Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund was created in 2011, when the General Assembly appropriated 6 million dollars for the purpose of advancing science and technology based research, development and commercialization in Virginia. Proposals submitted to the fund undergo a multi-stage review process, which includes award recommendations made by the Research and Technology Investment Advisory Committee and the Center for Innovative Technology’s Board of Directors.

This month Governor McAuliffe announced $2.7 million in funding for the 40 award recipients of 2017. The Chemistry Department was the only department at VCU to be supported by the fund this year, but principal investigators from various departments at the university have won grants from the fund every year since 2013.

Written by Megan Schiffres