Professor Claire Till with Ben Freiberger, Jacob Begorre and Cristina Tusei in front of their poster at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego. | Photo courtesy of Claire Till

Chemistry Professor Picks Up $100,000 Award

Claire Till of HSU receives lucrative award to aid her research and academics
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Claire Till of HSU receives lucrative award to aid her research and academics

Humboldt State University’s top-ranked chemistry program is home to a professor researching how plankton in the ocean interacts with heavy metals in the water.

“There are lots of people who are doing fantastic research and have awesome awards and grants on campus. So I’m glad for the opportunity to highlight some of the work that we’re doing at HSU and lots of people are doing lots of great work at HSU.”

Claire Till

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Claire Till recently won the Cottrell Scholar Award, a $100,000 award honoring trailblazing science professors or researchers who have made large strides in their respective fields.

“There are lots of people who are doing fantastic research and have awesome awards and grants on campus,” Till said. “So I’m glad for the opportunity to highlight some of the work that we’re doing at HSU and lots of people are doing lots of great work at HSU.”

Till looks forward to allocating the funds toward her personal research and her classroom. She’s using the funds to support field trips to gather more data and to hire student researchers.

“We’re going to go sample some rivers this summer,” Till said. “And then we’re going to do a couple of day trips on the research vessel, the Coral Sea, next summer, and some students will be hired throughout that.”

Till’s research is about iron, a vital nutrient for humans and phytoplankton in the ocean. Unfortunately, in the ocean, there are extremely low concentrations of iron, and as a result, phytoplankton are not growing as much.

“It’s really interesting—I think at least—to study how the iron gets there and how the phytoplankton uses it,” Till said. “What I proposed, and the work that we’re going to be working on, is to study iron using a new tool, which is another element called scandium.”

Till elaborated on the relationship between scandium and iron and what she hopes will come out of her research in relation to that.

“Scandium and iron have some parallels in chemical reactivity,” Till said. “There’s no real reason to expect them to behave similarly based on their chemical properties, and so I’m really interested in figuring out exactly in what ways are they similar and in what ways are they different.”

The second area Till will be putting funding toward is academics, specifically in her own classroom.

Ben Freiberger, a senior research student for Claire Till, has worked under her for a considerable amount of time.

“The money is now helping us to be able to get more accurate numbers and be able to determine more about scandium.”

Yasmin Zambrano

“We collect seawater samples, pre-concentrate them, and then measure them,” Freiberger said. “We just finished measuring all these samples from a cruise that went from Alaska to Tahiti. I started measuring those samples at the beginning of summer and I’m just getting finished with a couple hundred of those.”

He also went on a cruise last summer and is measuring samples he collected on the trip. His research may benefit from Till’s award.

“It’s good for the research group and it’s great that Claire can get money to keep doing this,” he said.

Yasmin Zambrano, a junior undergraduate research student for Till, was recently hired to work with her on her iron research.

“Right now, we’re just reading a lot of articles and trying to find how the treatments change within the different temperatures to see when it’s the best time to do the experiments and stuff,” Zambrano said.

Zambrano, too, is hopeful for the outlook of the chemistry program with the arrival of the award and subsequent funding.

“The money is now helping us to be able to get more accurate numbers and be able to determine more about scandium,” Zambrano said. “And again it’s going to be for at least three more years, so that’s three more years that she can do stuff, especially during the summer when students want to work in this field —and it looks good.”

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