Chemistry Professor Vincent Rotello of UMass Amherst Wins Sloan Fellowship

AMHERST, Mass. - Vincent Rotello, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Massachusetts, has been awarded a two-year, $35,000 Sloan Foundation fellowship. He is one of just 100 young scientists and economists at 52 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada to receive the award. Twenty-three former Sloan Fellows have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is based in New York City.

Rotello’s current research focuses on producing environmentally friendly chemical reactions using molecules of vitamin B-2 embedded in glass. "Right now there are certain reactions which require the use of toxic heavy metals. The vitamin B-2 approach would allow the same reactions to take place using sunlight and oxygen," said Rotello. The process could eventually be used on a large scale in industry, according to Rotello, particularly the pharmaceutical and plastics industries. In addition to being environmentally friendly, this new method is seen as advantageous in industry because it is extremely cost-effective, he added. Rotello is also known for his work with buckyballs, the superstrong, soccer-ball-shaped, carbon molecules also known as buckminsterfullerine.

Rotello has been hailed for developing an inexpensive process for producing buckyballs, microscopic spheres of 60 atoms of pure carbon. Before the discovery of buckyballs, which do not occur in nature, carbon was most commonly thought of in its other forms: graphite and diamonds.

In addition to Rotello’s research and teaching activities, he serves as director of the Chemistry Outreach Program, through which he visits area high schools and uses demonstrations and discussions to interest students in science. He is also a past director of the UMass Physical Sciences Talent Advancement Program, which offers seminars, field trips, and laboratory experience to first-year college students.

Rotello did his undergraduate work at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Yale University. He served as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the UMass faculty in 1993.