Anna Larsen, associate professor of chemistry, was recently awarded a Fulbright lecture and research scholarship for a project called “Carboranes Chemistry in Upper-Level Organometallics Course; Synthesis, Catalysis, and Stabilization of Nitroxyl and Diazene,” which is a study of new methods of breaking down precious metals. She will conduct the research during her sabbatical next fall with researchers from the chemistry department at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Assistant News Editor Aaron Edwards spoke to Larsen about her research, winning the Fulbright and her plans for the future.
Aaron Edwards: What will you use the Fulbright scholarship money to research?
Anna Larsen: My field of research is organometallic chemistry and catalysis. Catalysis is a very important part of many industrial scaled processes. Most of the processes use precious metals catalysts, which are very expensive. So, if we could substitute those catalysts, by less rare metals such as iron or ruthenium … this would make the process much less expensive. There is also a lot of research [into] making this catalyst less sensitive to impurities and water, which are often present in reaction mixtures.
AE: How did you meet and begin to work with the professors from Argentina?
AL: I met professor Doctorovich, who is going to be my host in Buenos Aires, during the International Gordon Research Conference on Inorganic Chemistry Reaction Mechanisms in Newport, R.I. He gave a poster presentation and a talk and that was pretty interesting, so we started talking about the research. Although he was enthusiastic about the research itself, he told me right away that he wouldn’t be able to support me because Argentina isn’t as well funded for chemistry and research compared to the U.S., so I researched several avenues [to help pay for our research], and Fulbright was one of them.
AE: The Ithacan recently published an article on women in science. In your opinion, what is the role of women in your field today?
AL: There’s a lot of attention to the changing percentage of women in chemistry. What is happening in the Ph.D. level is there are more than 50 percent females graduating from those programs. However, in the academic positions, this percentage is really much lower. Women contribute a lot in this field, but the conditions [in academia] are not flexible enough to accommodate women.
AE: What are those conditions?
AL: The timeline for tenure being awarded is very rigid. In very few schools are there any kind of adjustment given to women on the basis of their situation — for example, having a child during [the tenure process]. I had both my children during my post-doctoral research, and both times my advisers were very understanding. However, I know women who had serious difficulties in this regard.
AE: How will your students play a role in your Fulbright research?
AL: All my research is done with my students. A part of our Fulbright proposal is that the project has to play a role of setting up a network for continuing student collaboration between Ithaca College students and Argentina colleagues. [The chemistry department at present] does not have any ties with South America, so this would be a very new development.