John Protasiewicz with Morton L. Mandel
John Protasiewicz (left) with Morton L. Mandel (right)

Professor John Protasiewicz receives Mandel Award for outstanding chemistry faculty

For John Protasiewicz, going green is about more than sustainability. It signals a supportive, more collaborative approach—something altogether different from the high-stress, pressure-cooker environment evoked by bright red. It represents one of many reasons why Protasiewicz won the Mandel Award for Outstanding Chemistry Faculty this year. Endowed by accomplished business leader and philanthropist Mort Mandel, the honor reflects his long-held belief in the importance of exceptional individuals to organizations’ success.

With accomplishments extensive enough to become a fellow of the leading academic chemistry organizations in both the United States and Europe, Protasiewicz’s scientific acumen is obvious, but his commitment to other faculty truly distinguishes him as a colleague.

A professor and associate department chair, Protasiewicz launched an initiative six years ago where younger faculty come together to assist one another on grant applications well in advance of any looming due dates. The goal is to create a welcoming environment of peers and ultimately enhance funding success rates. He dubbed the effort the “Green Team.”

The name was designed to draw a contrast to the far more common “red teams,” where academic departments form teams of distinguished senior faculty to deliver critiques often only a week or days prior to submission deadlines.

“With the Green Team, I wanted to create a less stressful environment to encourage peer review of proposals,” Protasiewicz said. “One where we met more frequently and learned from each other as a team.” A number of the Green Team members have successfully earned prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Awards.

Through his research laboratory, Protasiewicz also mentors students ranging from high school to the post-doctorate level, some going on to research and faculty positions at highly ranked colleges and universities.

While he helps colleagues and students advance their own work, Protasiewicz has built an impressive research portfolio of his own.

His studies look for new luminescent molecules and materials based on novel combinations of organic and inorganic elements—materials that could yield new insights and properties that might be useful in electronic devices like lightweight, flexible digital displays and solar cells.

Another area of emphasis involves the field of chemical catalysis—converting cheap chemicals into more useful materials, for example, into valuable plastics or drugs.

In addition, a partnership with chemistry Professor Daniel Scherson led to the discovery of new Flame Retardant Ions (FRIONs) for potential use in lithium ion batteries to prevent them from catching fire without losing battery capacity—a problem recently seen with the recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones.

The award—made possible by Mort Mandel’s gift through the Morton and Barbara Mandel Family Foundation—reflects the gratitude of a graduate who received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2013. It also exemplifies the spirit of his 2012 book It’s All About Who… You Hire, How They Lead…and Other Essential Advice from a Self-Made Leader.

Protasiewicz agrees.

“I’m honored and extremely grateful for this recognition,” he said. “It rewards individuals beyond scientific achievement, which you don’t see often enough.”