HSU Chemistry Professor Wins Prestigious $100,000 Science Award

Humboldt State University Professor Claire Till is among 25 recipients of the 2020 Cottrell Scholar Awards from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA), America's first foundation dedicated wholly to science. Each awardee in this diverse group of early-career faculty-scholars in chemistry, physics, and astronomy receives $100,000.

Claire Till.
“We are excited to welcome our 2020 class of Cottrell Scholars, 25 outstanding teacher-scholars in the physical sciences from across the country,” says RCSA President and CEO Daniel Linzer.

The award will support two aspects of Till’s research: understanding iron concentrations in the ocean and tackling the opportunity gap for students in Chemistry.

Cottrell Scholar Award Recipients, identified as leaders in integrating science teaching and research at a top U.S. research university, a degree-granting research institute, or a primarily undergraduate institution, are chosen through a rigorous peer-review process.

“The quality of the applicants and the many terrific proposals we receive can make it difficult to choose,” says RCSA Senior Program Director Silvia Ronco. “We look for innovative ideas that are likely to make a positive impact on science and on the education of tomorrow’s scientists.”

Till, who has been a professor at HSU since 2016, plans to study the ocean mystery of iron—a key nutrient for phytoplankton, the foundation of the ocean food chain—by turning to another metal: scandium.

“We still don’t fully understand how iron cycles through the ocean. Another metal called scandium and iron have some similar chemical behaviors in the ocean,” says Till. “Understanding what’s driving that similarity could help us figure out what’s going on with iron.”

For the teaching side of this award, Till also plans to develop a large repository of practice problems of varying degrees of difficulty. She says that targeting specific skill levels helps boost a student’s confidence and, in turn, helps close the opportunity gap.

“Students with less experience in academia often doubt their abilities. By taking on problems that slowly build with difficulty, students not only learn the material but also develop the confidence and the expectation of learning the material.”

Once designated a Cottrell Scholar, several additional levels of competitive funding become available to develop initiatives to enhance science education or promote career growth.

New and established Cottrell Scholars also meet each year to share insights and inspiration at the Cottrell Scholar Conference. This year’s event, to be held July 8-10 in Tucson, Arizona, will focus on cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset through research and educational activities.

See the full list of this year’s Cottrell Scholars

About Research Corporation for Science Advancement
Research Corporation for Science Advancement was founded in 1912 and is the second-oldest foundation in the United States (after the Carnegie Corporation) and the oldest foundation for science advancement. Research Corporation is a leading advocate for the sciences and a major funder of scientific innovation and of research in America’s colleges and universities.