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Creighton University Researcher Receives National Science Foundation Award

Feb 21, 2022
5 min Read
Cindy Workman
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Creighton University chemistry researcher and assistant professor Joel Destino, PhD, has been awarded a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) for his project "CAREER: Investigation of Sol-gel-derived Hybrid Colloids for New Silica-Germania Glasses."
The five-year, $565,000 NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award will support his research investigating nanoscale germania and germania-silica particles (i.e., colloids) and their use as building blocks for fabricating non-crystalline (i.e., glass) materials by unconventional chemical methods, amenable to 3D printing. In addition, the award will fund his educational goals which aim to create a seamless learning community by bringing modern materials science and discovery into the classroom and providing research training opportunities.

The program offers the foundation’s most prestigious awards to support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. Destino, an assistant professor with the Department of Chemistry in Creighton’s College of Arts and Sciences, is the second Creighton faculty member to receive a CAREER award

Destino and his team of student researchers will use program funding to investigate fundamental chemistry key to designing novel nanoparticles that can be used to 3D print glass materials.

"It is incredibly gratifying to have our work supported by NSF,” Destino said. “CAREER awards are competitive, but particularly rare amongst primarily undergraduate programs such as ours."

"Glass formation is indelibly linked to melt-based processes, which is quite limiting when it comes to transformative technologies, such as additive manufacturing or 3D printing. Colloids are attractive glass feedstocks because they can be suspended in a liquid and extruded for printing.

“Our research pushes the boundaries on this idea by designing new colloids with complex chemical compositions and investigating their glass-forming properties. From this research, we hope to identify generalizable design rules for fabricating glass by this alternative method, which could potentially transform specialty and advanced glass optical material fabrication."

A major goal of the project is to provide research training to aspiring high school and undergraduate researchers from diverse backgrounds. Creighton students recruited through various channels, including Creighton's Educational Opportunity/TRiO programs, will perform research critical to the project throughout the calendar year. The NSF grant will financially support three undergraduate research positions each summer. Two students from local high schools will participate in the research project each summer in collaboration with the Haddix STEM Corridor program. Students in the program will attend weekly scientific development workshops on campus and present research results to other scientists and the public.

Additionally, the project will fund a collaborative summer research/curriculum-building program supporting two high school science teachers from Omaha public schools each year. The program's main objectives are to provide high school teachers with materials science research experiences and develop hands-on curricula integrating research concepts and skill-building to connect high school students with materials research and increase awareness of STEM opportunities.

"The sustained support over the next five years will have tremendous reach both in terms of scientific and educational goals,” Destino said. “What excites me most is that this award will provide opportunities in the laboratory for dozens of aspiring scientists and connect with potentially hundreds more in classrooms at local public schools. Through these experiences, we can provide students exposure and hopefully positive associations with scientific research early in their discernment process, which is critical to diversifying, growing, and strengthening the STEM pipeline."

In 2021, Destino was among 25 outstanding teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy named recipients of the $100,000 Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s 2021 Cottrell Scholar Awards.

NSF’s goal is to propel the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. The foundation supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation.