APS News

Research Corporation Helps Young Scientists Get Going

By Pamela Zerbinos

For 90 years, young physics researchers struggling to find funding for their first projects have turned to the Research Corporation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting scientists and their work.

"Your first grant is, in many ways, very important," said Protik Majumder, who teaches physics at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Majumder proposed to use small-scale experiments to do precise measurements of thallium atoms. He received the Cottrell College Science Award, granted to faculty at undergraduate institutions, in 1994.

"It was a small grant, but it really got me off the ground and got me started. I now have had five years of support from the NSF and have received a very competitive NIST grant. Nothing convinces a skeptical grant reviewer about your potential to get things done at a small college like accomplishing your first set of research goals."

"My Research Corp. grant has a very special place in my heart," said David Tanenbaum, a Pomona College professor who won the Cottrell College Science Award (CC) in 1998. "It was very fast. I wrote it in the fall and could spend the money by the summer. It allowed me to budget and spend my start-up money much more sensibly."

In 2002, the CC Awards accounted for just under half of the $5.4 million granted by the Research Corporation. Seventy undergraduate faculty members received a total of $2.4 million.

Young faculty at PhD-granting institutions are also encouraged to apply for some of the foundation's other grants. The Cottrell Scholar (CS) program was started in 1994 in response to criticism that faculty at research institutions don't put enough emphasis on teaching; the prize, which is awarded in the amount of $75,000 and spent at the discretion of the recipient, requires both research and teaching proposals and recognizes young faculty who excel at both.

"I think the Cottrell Scholar program is a great idea to encourage faculty at research institutions to think about excellence in teaching as well as research," said Mark Moldin, a UCLA professor who won a CS Award in 1996.

"I think they have developed a wonderful cadre of young faculty that are now tenured and making decisions that will have a real impact on the balance of research and teaching. I know that my ideas on the importance of strongly integrating teaching and research have been strengthened because of my involvement with the Cottrell Scholar program."

In addition to the CC and CS awards, the foundation also sponsors the Research Innovation Award (RIA) and the Research Opportunity Award (ROA). The RIA is for first-year faculty, and the ROA for senior faculty who want to explore new experimental research.

Their final program grants the Special Opportunities in Science Award to projects that advance scientific research but fall outside other program guidelines.

It is through this program that the Research Corporation is able to fund two of the American Physical Society's awards, the Edward A. Bouchet lecture award, for a distinguished minority lecturer; and a prize for faculty research at an undergraduate institution.

The Research Corporation was founded in 1913 by Frederick G. Cottrell, who donated his patents for the electrostatic precipitator in 1912 to create the foundation. And other proceeds from Cottrell's patents have been donated to other scientists to help further their research.


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