Gerbode Named 2016 Cottrell Scholar

Harvey Mudd College Assistant Professor of Physics Sharon Gerbode has been named one of two dozen 2016 Cottrell Scholars, a distinction given to top early career academic scientists by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). She is one of the first undergraduate college professors to receive the honor since the Cottrell College Science Awards merged with the Cottrell Scholars program.

The designation comes with a $100,000 award for research and teaching, which Gerbode will use to fund summer research—including three students this summer—and to develop a new physics course.

The Gerbode Lab examines the interactions between two kinds of imperfections in small colloidal crystals: dislocations that distort crystalline rows and artificially added impurities. By perturbing crystals of various sizes using a novel “optical blasting” technique developed by Mudd students in the Gerbode Lab, and then studying how the crystal subsequently heals, the research aims to ultimately discover how different types of defect interactions change the properties of nanocrystals.

“Colloids offer a truly unique opportunity to actually watch the time evolution of a crystalline system, particle by particle,” says Gerbode. “Results obtained from experiments on colloidal systems have been used to probe unanswered questions in analogous atomic or molecular systems whose constituents are made inaccessible by both size and speed.”

The research could have important implications for improving the performance of electronic devices—for example, increasing the efficiency of solar panels that produce electricity directly from sunlight.

Cottrell Scholars are chosen through a stringent peer-review process based on their innovative research proposals and education programs. Scholars engage in an annual networking event, providing them an opportunity to share insights and expertise through the Cottrell Scholar Collaborative. Gerbode will present at this year’s event, which will be held in mid July in Tucson, Arizona, and is expected to draw about 80 top educators from around the United States.

“The Cottrell Scholar program champions the very best early career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy by providing these significant discretionary awards,” said RCSA President and CEO Robert N. Shelton. Shelton added that the program is designed to foster synergy among faculty at major American research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions.