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Will Isley and Becca Mackenzie honored with Overend Award

Rebecca "Becca" Mackenzie and William "Will" Isley III

Graduate students William “Will” Isley III and Rebecca “Becca” Mackenzie have received 2014-15 Overend Award for Graduate Research in Physical Chemistry. The award honors outstanding physical chemistry graduate student researchers.

The Overend Award is named after Professor John Overend who was a physical chemist in the department from 1960 to 1984. The award was created in 1991 through the efforts of Professor Paul Barbara. Will and Becca will each receive up to $600 for travel to a conference of their choice.

Will is a fifth-year graduate student working with Professor Christopher Cramer. Will received this award for his outstanding work as a theorist/modeler, which encompasses working with a variety of levels of electronic structure theory and software. For example, he is connecting quantum theory to classical mechanical theory in order to help develop simple, analytic force fields, which will help researchers assess the dynamical behavior of these systems. He has been pursuing a particularly challenging research topic that involves developing and validating models for host-guest interactions between large self-assembled hosts in aqueous and organic solutions and small molecule guests. His work is designed to provide atomic-level detail into phenomenological experimental results. Recently, his modeling work was included in a published paper describing the ability of MOF NU-1000 to catalyze the decomposition of chemical weapons agents.

Will pursues challenging projects that often require him to familiarize himself with new theoretical models and software, said Professor Cramer. His initiative, independence, productivity, drive, and scientific talent set him apart, he said.

Becca is a fourth-year graduate student working with Professor Kenneth Leopold. Becca received this award for her outstanding work in high resolution rotational spectroscopy. Using both conventional cavity-type and the newer chirped-pulse Fourier transform microwave techniques, she has studied a wide variety of systems and has provided deep and careful analyses as to their broader chemical and physical significance. Her most important discovery has been the observation and characterization of the previously unknown species formic sulfuric anhydride, which she has identified as a potential player in atmospheric aerosol formation. Her other work has involved diverse topics such as double proton transfer, large amplitude vibrational dynamics, and the measurement and interpretation of molecular electric field gradients in weakly bound systems.

“These accomplishments represent not only outstanding contributions to fundamental knowledge, but also demonstrate, yet again, how basic research can lead to unexpected insights pertinent to larger problems of society," said Professor Ken Leopold.