CLAS faculty member Florence Williams receives NSF CAREER Award

UI Department of Chemistry assistant professor Florence Williams has been awarded the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which carries a $650,000 grant for research.
Wednesday, August 2, 2023

By Charlotte Brookins 

Assistant professor Florence Williams has earned her a prestigious early-career grant from the National Science Foundation to fund her work. The award will help fund current chemical research and other projects connected to the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, including efforts to improve the department’s facilitation of learning. 

 Florence Williams
Florence Williams

“I was very happy to receive the award, of course,” says Williams. “This is a big deal; these CAREER Awards cover an entire program, not just one project, which brings a lot of flexibility.” 

Her research revolves primarily around boron-containing reagents and how they can be used in a way that is beneficial to the community. In particular, these reagents can be used in chemical recycling of epoxy plastics, which are not currently recycled, to regenerate new epoxy products of similar or equal performance. Further, these boron reagents will be used to convert “forever chemicals” called PFAS into more benign materials in order to make them easier to degrade. Her research also delves into methods to efficiently generate medicinal compounds that are otherwise difficult to access.  

But that’s not all the grant will cover—part of the funds will also be used to further supplement an app created by Williams and a fellow chemist at the University of Alberta in 2016. The app, called Mastering Spectroscopy is designed to help chemistry students better understand the concept of organic spectroscopy, the study of spectra produced from the interaction of matter and electromagnetic radiation. 

“This can be a difficult subject to get students interested and engaged in,” Williams says. “This app was developed to help with that. It breaks down the problem to be less overwhelming and facilitates the learning and understanding in that process.” 

The funding from the award will be used to collect data on the efficacy of the app and its ability to help students, as well as improve the application and keep up with regular maintenance. She also plans to develop a gender equity group in STEM that could reach out to other local colleges and universities and create a space for different experiences in the scientific community.  

Williams says she’s grateful to receive the grant and knows it will help further her work and the research mission of the university.  

“It’s critical to receive major grants to maintain an active research program; institutions like ours have a really high-quality research program, and we rely on these grants to maintain that level of productivity,” she explains. “It means we have the flexibility to really dive into the science and go further into real life applications.” 

Williams is one among a record number of young investigators at the University of Iowa to secure prestigious funding in fiscal year 2023. To learn more about her grant and research, view the official National Science Foundation award announcement

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.