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Chemistry’s Pitre awarded NSF CAREER award

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

Dr. Spencer Pitre, an Oklahoma State University Department of Chemistry professor, was awarded a $679,955 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to fund research on the development of cobalt catalysts that generate radicals from non-traditional precursors using visible light irradiation.  

“Carbon radicals have become an indispensable tool for the construction of complex organic compounds,” Pitre said. “However, most organic molecules must be preactivated to be effective as radical precursors, adding undesired synthetic steps and creating additional byproducts and chemical waste. 

 “Inspired by Vitamin B12 and its natural reactivity, we are leveraging analogous cobalt complexes to generate carbon radicals from new classes of precursors, avoiding the need for preactivated substrates. These methods rely on visible light photochemistry to mediate radical formation, an emerging synthetic strategy that enables mild reaction conditions.” 

The NSF funds will also allow the department to establish an annual undergraduate photochemistry workshop. 

“These workshops give students that have limited access to research opportunities from across Oklahoma the chance to learn about photochemistry and its impact on the development of new chemistries,” Pitre said.  

Pitre, who mentors several graduate and undergraduate students, said that receiving awards enhances the educational opportunities available to students.  

It means a great deal to be selected for such a prestigious award,” Pitre said. “I’m extremely grateful to be able to receive funding from NSF to help support the wonderful group of students that are part of my lab so that we can continue to pursue our research goals.” 

Department head Dr. Chris Fennell echoed Pitre’s emphasis on student opportunities provided by NSF funding.  

“Creating new knowledge is possibly the highest level of learning, and we want all students to have these experiences during the course of their degrees,” Fennell said. “Accolades like these validate the rich research environment that we are trying to build. The creative work that students will perform here at OSU under these projects has the potential to positively change both that student's life experience and the lives of others.” 

Story By: Erin Weaver, CAS Communications Coordinator |

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