American Chemical Society celebrates Petroleum Research Fund success
At a time when many scientists scramble to get grants from shrinking federal research budgets, a unique fund is celebrating its growing contribution to science. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Petroleum Research Fund’s first grants and the 60th anniversary of its founding. Over the last half-century, ACS PRF has played a pivotal role in the careers of chemists, geologists, engineers and other researchers — including 19 Nobel laureates. By offering rare financial support for innovative basic research, ACS PRF is a unique resource that jump-starts researchers’ careers and fuels creativity.
To honor these achievements, scientists will focus on the success of ACS PRF during the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia. A special symposium and reception will be held on Monday, Aug. 23. The symposium is an ACS Presidential Event titled "The ACS Petroleum Research Fund — 50 Years of Support for Fundamental Research." During the event, the following five grant recipients will share stories about PRF’s impact on their careers: Dudley R. Herschbach, Harvard, 1986 Nobel Laureate; John D. Roberts, California Institute of Technology; Joan F. Brennecke, University of Notre Dame; Apurba Bhattacharya, Texas A&M University, Kingsville; and Kieron Burke, Rutgers University.
"Over the past 50 years, PRF has been a rare and treasured source of funding for scientists," says ACS President Charles P. Casey of the University of Wisconsin. "I join with multidisciplinary scientists in celebrating this 50th anniversary. ACS is proud of its connection with PRF." Casey is a former PRF grant recipient and Advisory Board member.
In 1944, seven major oil companies who jointly owned Universal Oil Products donated stock to found PRF as a charitable scientific and educational trust, naming ACS as its qualified recipient and giving ACS the authority to decide how the income would be spent to support "advanced scientific education and fundamental research." Over the years, PRF has distributed more than $420 million, across nearly 15,000 research grants. Those grants have supported fundamental research leading to new ways to make drugs, design better catalysts, find oil fields, predict earthquakes, refine crude oil, invent plastic products, safely process chemicals, and understand prehistoric plants and animals.
In 2001, the PRF trust was dissolved and reestablished as ACS PRF, an endowment managed by ACS, the world's largest scientific society. Today, the Fund’s total value is roughly $500 million. This year alone, ACS PRF will distribute more than $20 million to grant recipients.
Among scientists, PRF grants are known for launching careers. ACS PRF starter grants give many assistant professors their first opportunity to receive peer-reviewed funding. Other ACS PRF grants emphasize novel research directions, allowing worthwhile yet risky ideas to develop. What’s more, PRF awards are flexible, going to any fundamental research project that may later lead to an impact on the petroleum field. Bolstered by such support, recipients often use a PRF grant as seed money to launch a significant new line of research.
"Every time I wanted to branch into a new area, it was the Petroleum Research Fund that provided initial support," recalls Bruce Finlayson, a chemical engineer at the University of Washington. "I can truly say that PRF helped me reinvent myself over and over." With support from five PRF grants, the first awarded in 1971, Finlayson has contributed to: shortened computation times for reaction-diffusion problems; improved catalytic converter designs; enhanced oil recovery; and measurement of key polymer flow properties.
So far, 19 Nobel laureates also have received PRF funding, sometimes for key discoveries. One example is Virginia Commonwealth University chemist John Fenn, who shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for methods of studying biological macromolecules with mass spectrometry. The prize cited Fenn’s research on electrospray ionization, which PRF grants helped support throughout the 1980s.
Students, too, benefit from PRF grants awarded to their mentors. At Texas A&M University in Kingsville, for instance, chemist Apurba Bhattacharya used a 2003 PRF grant to buy chemical reagents, equipment and books that allowed students to carry out organic chemistry research that was largely impossible before. The PRF grant has inspired a jump in the number of chemistry majors, which recently doubled to nearly 60 students.
"The PRF grant has brought a lot of hope and has given a new life for less fortunate minority students like myself," remarks Tomas Vasques, a graduating senior in Bhattacharya’s lab. "The grant has allowed me to do research that is at the forefront of chemistry and encouraged me to continue my education to become a Ph.D., something I would have never thought possible." Vasques plans to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry — and already has been accepted by four universities.
Hoping to nurture similar success, ACS PRF next year will introduce a new program to support undergraduate summer research by underrepresented minority students. New pilot programs, such as alternative energy postdoctoral fellowships, also support specific scientific fields. At its core, ACS PRF continues to award an array of traditional grants open to all graduate and undergraduate faculties. For all ACS PRF grants, an advisory board of 31 leading scientists determines which grant proposals best meet funding criteria and promise the greatest impact.
The PRF anniversary symposium will take place from 2-5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 23, at the Philadelphia Marriott, Salon A. An open reception follows. The Committee on Science cosponsors this Presidential Event, which was organized by chemists Edward J.J. Grabowski and Richard P. Johnson. To commemorate the 50th anniversary, ACS PRF also is compiling a historical booklet, composed of vignettes from current and former grantees, board members and staff. The booklet will be distributed at the symposium and posted on ACS PRF’s website at www.chemistry.org/prf.
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What researchers are saying about the Petroleum Research Fund
Since it began awarding grants 50 years ago, the Petroleum Research Fund has distributed more than $420 million, across nearly 15,000 research grants. ACS PRF is being honored at the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia Aug. 22-26. Here are some of the comments of grant recipients about its importance to their work. These comments are from the historical booklet being issued by ACS PRF in honor of the anniversary. The booklet is posted on ACS PRF’s website at www.chemistry.org/prf.
"The Petroleum Research Fund of the ACS is one of the best vehicles to facilitate rapid movement into exciting new fields of research. Because of the relatively short proposals, rapid review and short turnaround time, I have been able to jump into new areas of research quickly, and use the results to obtain longer-term support from federal agencies such as National Science Foundation or the Department of Energy. — Charles Rosenblatt, Case Western Reserve University, Department of Physics
"An excellent quality of the PRF is that it supports innovation by young faculty. As other funding agencies become mired in the concept that research must demonstrate success before it is funded, PRF is willing to allow new ideas to be tested. My work brought me to focus on soot in soils and sediments, but I soon realized that the importance of soot in the atmosphere is even greater. Trying to get funding through a government agency to break into a new research area seemed futile, but PRF provided a startup grant for me to explore this area. The catalyst of the PRF starter grant began a series of valuable interactions among a group of scientists that had no contact before." — James Kubicki, The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Geosciences
"I can categorically state that our fundamental exploratory indole chemistry over the years, and the discovery and development of sodium acetoxyborohydride as a novel reagent in the mid 1970s and 1980s, both chemistries of which are extensively used in industry and academia, would not have been possible without PRF support." — Gordon Gribble, Dartmouth University, Department of Chemistry
"One of the major forces for championing diversity, especially the more subtle types, has been the PRF. Its grant-making has focused on new investigators, and it is one of the few sources that will support visits to the U.S. of foreign scientists and engineers. Working very closely with the ACS divisions, PRF has enriched the national symposia with distinguished people from the international community of chemists." — Mark A. Ratner, Northwestern University, Department of Chemistry
"More than thirty years ago, I had the belief that blending of polymers could become a significant new way of creating polymer products for many applications and that the key to the behavior of such mixtures was how the two polymeric components interacted with each other energetically. PRF provided a critical source of support for students and supplies as we built a solid foundation of knowledge that has proved the value of this original idea." — Donald R. Paul, University of Texas, Austin, Department of Chemical Engineering
"Although funding has become increasingly difficult in synthetic organic chemistry, ACS PRF has remained as an invaluable source of funding that provides one with the freedom to explore fundamental aspects of organic synthesis. Personally, it played an important role in saving my academic career. ACS PRF funded us and we never looked back. We have published 22 papers since on this topic and completed ten natural products employing this method. More importantly, we were able to subsequently secure NIH funding, which has allowed us to sustain and develop this topic into a major research program." — Richard P. Hsung, University of Minnesota, Department of Chemistry
"PRF holds a special place in my heart because it supported my riskiest (and most innovative) research. I have gone on to receive funding from NSF to further develop aspects of the same work, but it was PRF that gave me the chance to get it started." — Cindy Lee, State University of New York, Stony Brook, Marine Sciences Research Center
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PRF FACT SHEET
The American Chemical Society is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first grant and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Petroleum Research Fund at ACS’s 228th national meeting Aug. 22-26 in Philadelphia. Following is a fact sheet about ACS PRF.
What is the ACS Petroleum Research Fund?
PRF is a charitable endowment fund, managed by ACS, that supports basic research in chemistry, earth sciences, chemical engineering and related fields, such as polymers, materials science and the chemistry/biology interface. It is charged with supporting "advanced scientific education and fundamental research in the petroleum field," including any area of pure science that may lead to further research directly impacting petroleum.
How does PRF differ from other funds?
Unlike federal agencies, which pursue explicit research agendas, ACS PRF supports scientists doing a wide range of fundamental research. Some PRF grants emphasize novel research directions, allowing risky, yet worthwhile, ideas to develop. PRF starter grants also give many assistant professors their first opportunity to receive peer-reviewed funding. Recipients often use a PRF grant as seed money to launch a significant new line of research.
What kinds of grants does ACS PRF offer?
ACS PRF offers an array of grants, including starter grants to new faculty and supplements to support summer research by faculty in undergraduate departments. New pilot programs focus on specific scientific fields (such as alternative energy) and participants (such as underrepresented minorities). For a breakdown of ACS PRF grants, eligibility criteria, and stories from past grant recipients, see the PRF website at www.chemistry.org/prf.
What is the history behind ACS PRF?
In 1944, seven oil companies that jointly owned Universal Oil Products donated stock to a trust, creating PRF and ACS was named as the qualified recipient of its trust. It was given the authority to decide how the income would be spent to support "advanced scientific education and fundamental research." A decade later, in 1954, PRF awarded its first research grants. More recently, in 2001, PRF was transferred to ACS as a charitable endowment fund. Over the past 50 years, PRF has distributed more than $420 million, across nearly 15,000 research grants, to chemists, geologists, chemical engineers and other researchers — including 19 Nobel laureates.
What is the future of ACS PRF?
ACS PRF continues to grow, with a current total value of roughly $500 million. In 2004, ACS PRF awarded over $20 million in research grants and fellowships. As research needs change, PRF evolves to meet those needs. In 2005, for instance, PRF plans to introduce a new program to support undergraduate summer research by underrepresented minority students.
American Chemical Society
Petroleum Research Fund
- Established as a trust in 1944
- Awarded over $420 million in grants since 1954
- Awarded nearly 15,000 research grants to individual scientists, including Nobel laureates, since 1954
- Supports fundamental research in chemistry, the earth sciences, chemical engineering and related fields, such as polymers, materials science and the chemistry/biology interface. In particular, ACS PRF has supported basic research leading to new ways to make drugs, design better catalysts, find oil fields, predict earthquakes, refine crude oil, invent plastic products, safely process chemicals, understand prehistoric plants and animals, and more.
- In 2004, awarded over $20 million in research grants
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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