Chemistry Professor Jay Foley Receives 2019 Cottrell Scholar Award

Jay Foley

Jay Foley, an assistant professor of chemistry at William Paterson University, is one of 24 scientists nationwide named as recipients of the 2019 Cottrell Scholar Awards presented by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the country’s first foundation dedicated wholly to science, for leadership in integrating science teaching and research. He is the only recipient at a college or university in New Jersey. 

The Cottrell Scholar Awards provide $100,000 to each recipient identified as a leader in integrating science teaching and research at a top U.S. research university or a primarily undergraduate institutionThe Cottrell Scholars Program champions the very best early career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy by providing these significant discretionary awards.

“Professor Foley has been critically involved in curricular developments in our Department of Chemistry that use computational modeling, problem solving, and design to enhance the teaching and learning of chemistry,” says Venkat Sharma, dean of the University’s College of Science and Health. “He is an outstanding teacher-scholar and we are very proud that he has received this prestigious award.”

Foley studies how energy flows through molecules and nanostructures. “Chemists are used to thinking about how light can provide energy to start a chemical reaction; this is essentially what happens in photosynthesis where sunlight provides the energy to kick off reactions that allow plants to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars and oxygen,” he explains.  “Under very special circumstances, light doesn’t just give energy to molecules to start a reaction, but actually merges with molecules to form hybrid light-molecule states called polaritonsthat can react in completely different ways than molecules alone.”

His project, Polaritonic Chemistry with Hybrid Nanoparticles, proposes a new route to creating polaritons using a composite nanomaterial with very small light-absorbing nanoparticles decorating the surface of a much larger non-light-absorbing nanostructure to mediate the specific interactions between light and molecules that are required for polariton formation.

Part of the award will support the development of a suite of interactive simulation tools that will be deployed in several key stages of the chemistry curriculum where foundational concepts about light-matter interactions are introduced. The award also will provide financial support for several William Paterson undergraduate and graduate students to be actively engaged in Foley’s research, including development of the simulation tools.

Foley joined the University in 2015.  A graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, he earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory. He is the recipient of an American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Undergraduate New Investigator Award. His research has been published in numerous journals including Nature Photonics, Advanced Energy Materials, and Journal of Physical Chemistry, among others.