Rotello Earns $25,000 TREE Award for Outstanding Research, Education

Vincent Rotello
Vincent Rotello

Distinguished Professor Vincent Rotello, chemistry, is one of two outstanding Cottrell Scholars recently named as 2016 recipients of the Resource Corporation for Science Advancement’s (RCSA) TREE Award for Transformational Research and Excellence in Education. It is intended to recognize and advance “truly outstanding research and education,” and comes with a $25,000 prize.

The RCSA is a Tucson-based private foundation supporting basic research in the physical sciences. In recognizing Rotello, RCSA notes that he has a Google Scholar h-index of 81, “putting him in the top few percent of research chemists worldwide.” His 20 years of independent research includes supramolecular chemistry, nanobiology and biomaterials.

Silvia Ronco, RCSA senior program director, says, “Vince is the ultimate teacher-scholar. His research accomplishments are completely off the chart. His creative chemical approaches will benefit society in a number of positive ways. In addition, he is a passionate teacher who engages undergraduate and graduate students through mentoring, interactive methods and multidisciplinary approaches.”

Rotello says that receiving this honor is “particularly rewarding, since it acknowledges my contributions in research, education and mentoring, all things that I value as a teacher-scholar.” His research focuses on using nanomaterials to address important health issues including cancer, antibiotic resistant infections and immune diseases.

He and his colleagues are currently using these molecular recognition concepts to explore a wide range of questions in biology and materials chemistry. In particular, he has done what colleagues describe as “breakthrough work” on bacterial sensing with nanotechnology, demonstrating that chemical tuning of nanoparticle surfaces influences bound protein function. Rotello is editor-in-chief of Bioconjugate Chemistry.

University of Illinois professor Catherine J. Murphy calls Rotello’s work “astoundingly creative. He has done a lot of experiments I wish I’d thought of.” She adds that he has “stimulated many useful ways of thinking about nanoparticle chemistry.”

Rotello is acknowledged as a world leader in the use of gold nanoparticles for biological applications. Recent work showed that nanoparticle-fluorescent protein sensors can be used for rapidly determining drug mechanisms, which has implications for developing new anti-cancer therapies. Most recently, his group developed a new strategy for doing synthetic chemistry inside of cells, a type of reaction cells cannot do themselves, providing a new way to activate drugs at tumor sites.

In citing Rotello, RCSA also points out that as an educator he has been a champion of undergraduate research and was among those instrumental in restructuring the campus’s graduate program to enhance multidisciplinary learning. He is now working on a plan to provide career mentoring for students by engaging his extensive alumni network.

TREE Award winners are asked to give a plenary talk at the Cottrell Scholar Conference and a session or reception is organized at either an American Chemical Society or APS national meeting in their honor.

Rotello and chemistry professor Rigoberto Hernandez of Georgia Tech were selected by a committee of senior Cottrell Scholars and members of the RCSA scientific staff, and approved by RCSA President Robert Shelton and the foundation’s board of directors.