Margaret Kerr

Prof. Margaret Kerr, Ph.D., Receives Deans’ Lecture Award

October 13, 2020
By: Kristen O'Reilly

Chemistry Professor Margaret Kerr, Ph.D., received the second annual Deans’ Lecture Award this fall in recognition of her extensive research, scholarship, and curriculum development in the field of green chemistry. The Deans’ Lecture Award usually involves a special dinner followed by a lecture by the honoree as part of the Faculty Showcase of Scholarship and Creativity. Due to the pandemic, that lecture may be rescheduled to late spring, according to Provost Lois Wims, Ph.D.

Kerr was honored for her research and teaching, as well as her success in developing green chemistry curricula at the college and K-12 levels, both at Worcester State and in Thailand.

“Dr. Kerr’s research in the field of green chemistry is exemplary and is recognized at the local, regional, national, and international levels. I can think of no one more deserving of this award than Dr. Kerr,” says Linda S. Larrivee, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education, Health and Natural Sciences. “She is a faculty member who is dedicated to her students, her profession, and WSU. She consistently receives accolades from her current and former students for her support in the classroom and the lab. Throughout the year, her students work with Dr. Kerr in her lab on chemistry and interdisciplinary STEM research projects allowing them to gain valuable experience along with opportunities to present their work at conferences.”

“Dr. Kerr’s body of work shows a faculty member at her best—helping Worcester State University transform into a place where knowledge is created and applied, not merely collected and disseminated.  It’s a pleasure to see the institution give Dr. Kerr the recognition she richly deserves,” says Russ Pottle, Ph.D., dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Kerr’s published research involves synthesizing polymers that are water soluble in photolysis—the decomposition or separation of molecules by light—which will reduce overall waste and be more environmentally friendly than traditional polymers. She has collaborated with Supawan Tantayanon, Ph.D., at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, and that partnership was the foundation of a current long-term exchange program between WSU and Chulalongkorn University

Other research involves the study of catalysts, which lowers the overall energy needed for reactions. During her sabbatical in 2015, she worked with Marion Emmert, Ph.D., at WPI to study the C-H activation and aerobic C-H oxygenation of arene rings, important components in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industry.

Kerr is also one of three Worcester State researchers sharing a $44,000 interdisciplinary research grant through the Aisiku STEM Center (Synthesis of Thielavin Derivatives as Antimicrobial Compounds for Disease Treatment, Dr. Roger Greenwell, Dr. Weichu Xu, Dr. Margaret Kerr). Her research involves exploring catalytic methodology to synthesize antimicrobial molecules.

Since 2012, she has taught an online course she created called “Paper or Plastic?” as a non-laboratory science elective. The course takes a deep dive into green chemistry and sustainability, covering topics such as climate change, pollution, polymers, toxicity, and chemicals in consumer products. In describing the course, Kerr writes, “By the end of the course, students are expected to apply basic scientific principles to these different topics. Students are expected to develop a basic understanding about green chemistry and greener alternatives to global environmental problems.”

She has lectured about the development of this course at national conferences and workshops, and collaborated with fellow chemistry professor Meghna Dilip, Ph.D., to write a book chapter for a green chemistry course textbook.

The partnership between WSU and Chulalongkorn University has allowed students and faculty from both institutions to participate in academic exchanges, with a focus on green chemistry education. Worcester State has hosted students and teachers Satit Chula Demonstration School in Thailand, and Kerr has reciprocated by teaching green chemistry classes at Satit Chula.

“For several years, her partnership with Chulalongkorn University in Thailand has supported both students and faculty from that university to visit, study, and conduct research with Dr. Kerr and her WSU students here at WSU,” says Larrivee.

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