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Gagliardi named Distinguished McKnight University Professor

Professor Laura Gagliardi has received the University of Minnesota's 2014 Distinguished McKnight University Professorship.

This professorship recognizes and rewards the university's most outstanding mid-career faculty members. Recipients are honored with the title, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, which they hold for as long as they remain at the University of Minnesota, and receive a grant of $100,000 that can be used to support their scholarly activities. Gagliardi will be recognized at a Board of Regents meeting, Thursday, May 8, and at an awards reception and dinner, Tuesday, May 13.

Professor Gagliardi was chosen based on the level of distinction and prestige that her scholarly work brings to the university; the merit of her achievements and the potential for greater attainment in the field; the dimension of her national or international reputation, including leadership efforts in interdisciplinary or collaborative initiatives; the extent to which her work and reputation are identified with the University of Minnesota; the quality of her teaching and advising; and her contributions to the wider community. She excels in all of those areas.

"Laura Gagliardi combines enthusiasm and dedication in her performance as a faculty member," said William Tolman, chair of the Department of Chemistry. "She has earned a sterling reputation in the chemistry community due to the outstanding quality of her research, and she embraced the university community through her leadership in multi-investigator programs and collaborations in a way that has advanced numerous research projects other than simply her own.

"Her research program is multidisciplinary, productive and impactful, and through her theoretical work she has made contributions that have changed the course of experimental and theoretical science in key areas of great importance for society. Professor Gagliardi has been a powerful force in the classroom, having an impact on teaching not only here, but at other institutions as well. She has been unstinting in the devotion of her time to the scientific and University communities. She is simply relentless in the face of every challenge," Tolman said.

Gagliardi has been a professor in the Department of Chemistry since 2009. Her field of research is computational quantum chemistry, and her background spans physical, inorganic, and materials chemistry. She earned her master's degree and doctorate from the University of Bologna, Italy. She began her career in academia at the University of Palermo, and the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

She is one of the top theoretical chemists in the world, developing  theories that elucidate the fundamental behavior of matter. Her work has led to paradigm-shifting improvements in the understanding of complex inorganic systems and their properties. She uses these theories to model chemical processes relevant to the energy needs of modern society. As examples, Gagliardi designs new materials to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and new processes to recycle spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power reactors. Gagliardi is known for her mastery of the computational actinides—elements that underpin the science of nuclear energy. Through many collaborations, her predictions inspire new experiments in the chemistry and materials science communities. She has published about 200 research articles in some of the most prestigious journals in the chemistry field.

"The computational science she does is elegant, compelling, and timely, and it addresses interesting and challenging problems at the intersection of quantum chemistry and inorganic chemistry," wrote one of her award nominators. "She moves effortlessly between the two communities and has won the admiration and respect of both. Her infectious enthusiasm for her science is matched by her ability to communicate complex quantum chemical concepts to the expert and non-expert alike."

Gagliardi also has an outstanding record of research funding, totaling more than $10 million. This includes being director of the $7.5 million Nanoporous Materials Genome Center, a Department of Energy center for materials and chemical science software innovation that involves seven research institutions.

One of her collaborators wrote: "Laura Gagliardi’s research expanded in numerous directions that have an impact on inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, catalysis, and nanoscience as well as her core area of theoretical chemistry."

As a teacher, Gagliardi has taught classes at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, including Introduction to Quantum Mechanics and Spectroscopy, usually to sections of more than 100 students at a time. In addition to maintaining an excellent rapport with her students, she improved the pedagogy of departmental course offerings by developing a graduate course, Advanced Electronic Structure Theory. As an adviser and mentor, she has guided 11 students to advanced degrees, has worked with 12 post-doctoral associates, and helped 18 undergraduates and two high school students with their independent research.

As one of the leading female scientists in the world, Gagliardi is a mentor, role model, and advocate for women and other under-represented groups of people in chemistry. She is dedicated to training the next generation of women leaders in science and encouraging women to undertake academic paths.

The Department of Chemistry holds 12 Distinguished McKnight University Professorships—more than any other department at the University of Minnesota. Current faculty members who also have received this high distinction include George Barany, Christopher Cramer, Mark Distefano, Timothy Lodge, Marc Hillmyer, J. Ilja Siepmann, Andreas Stein, and William Tolman.