By Tom Karow | From the Spring 2012 issue of Roosevelt Review
To use his words, the research grant Assistant Professor Sergiy Rosokha (above) received last year from the National Science Foundation (NSF) “is a really big deal.” For most of us, that description is probably a bit easier to grasp than saying, “My grant is for a study of halogen bonding between organic acceptors and transition-metal complexes.” Truth be told, Rosokha’s grant is a big deal. His $280,000 award is the first time Roosevelt University has received a scientific research grant from the NSF. Prior awards from the highly regarded government agency were for instruments and science education.
In addition to underwriting chemicals and testing equipment to support Rosokha’s innovative research, the grant allows four to six undergraduate students to receive paid internships to study with the Roosevelt chemist for the next three years.
The chair of the University’s Department of Biology, Chemistry and Physical Sciences, Cornelius Watson, said that only about one in four NSF applications are accepted due to increased competition and reductions in funding levels. “It is a real tribute to Dr. Rosokha that he was able to win this award. Hopefully it will make Roosevelt more competitive for future research funding.”
Rosokha’s area of interest is intermolecular interactions, particularly molecules containing halogen atoms and how those atoms bond. In his research, he hopes to establish the main factors that determine the characteristics of halogen-bonded complexes and the effects the interactions have on halogencontaining molecules.
When asked if this would be a major advancement in chemistry, he laughed and then replied in his heavy Ukrainian accent, “In this area, definitely yes, in general chemistry, not as much.”
The grant allows Rosokha and his students to conduct high-level research work that is publishable and is of interest to the scientific community. “Students who do research learn what chemistry is all about,” he said. “It is much deeper than laboratory work in class. It is more advanced, both theoretically and experimentally, and provides them better opportunities for future work.”
One of his research students, senior Monica Timmerman, is eager to learn as much as possible about chemistry procedures and theory. The chemistry major who wants to pursue a career in pharmacy or the health sciences said, “I have found that research requires determination and improvisation, at times. It is different from course lab work as there is no book or packet that can tell you about the reactions taking place.”
Michael Vinakos, a biotechnology and chemical science major, agreed, adding, “In research you don’t necessarily know what the results will look like or if the methods devised will even successfully yield useable results. I wasn’t all that familiar with halogen bonding before Dr. Rosokha gave me some literature on the subject to read. I have learned how halogen bonding may be an overlooked phenomenon.”
A chemical researcher in his native Ukraine and the United States for nearly 20 years, Rosokha received his undergraduate degree from one of the former Soviet Union’s most distinguished universities, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. It is considered to be the Russian equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His PhD is from the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine.
At the University of Houston, where Rosokha taught before joining Roosevelt, he and a colleague attracted the attention of scientific journals for their studies on intermolecular interactions. It was that research which paved the way for Rosokha’s NSF grant. “Without being published in the highly-ranked journals, I wouldn’t have gotten this grant. That proved my credibility and showed that I know what I’m talking about,” he said.
Jeremy Ritzert, who will graduate in 2013 with a biology degree, has found Rosokha to be passionate about chemistry education. “He expects students to understand big concepts in addition to laboratory techniques. He uses laboratory and research methods as a way of backing up theoretical concepts.”
Last summer, Ritzert, after doing research with Rosokha at the Schaumburg Campus, was selected to make a presentation at Argonne National Laboratory. “It was an amazing experience to do research in organic chemistry, a subject that I love, and then to be able to present to other students in other fields of science,” he said.
Helping students like Vinakos, Ritzert and Timmerman is a major reason Roosevelt received the NSF grant. In awarding the grant, the NSF noted that, “Participation in the project will advance the problem-solving ability and experimental expertise of students, as well as improve their teamwork and communication skills. The research experience leading to publications and presentations at professional meetings will encourage students, many of whom are from the underrepresented in sciences groups, to explore careers in science.”
Rosokha knows that the grant will be valuable longterm for both the University and its science program, which will have brand new, state of the art laboratories at the Schaumburg Campus and in the new Wabash Building. “Roosevelt has many students who are capable of participating in scientific research,” Rosoka said. “This grant allows us to show chemists across the nation what we at Roosevelt University can do.”
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