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Four Chemists Receive 2023 Marion Milligan Mason Award

Ariel Furst, Jessica Kramer, Denise Okafor and Alexandra Velian are the 2023 Marion Milligan Mason Award recipients.
Ariel Furst, Jessica Kramer, Denise Okafor and Alexandra Velian are the 2023 Marion Milligan Mason Award recipients.

Four early-career chemists have been awarded funding to kickstart their research, ranging from biochemistry to polymers, thanks to a fund created to advance women in the chemical sciences.

The 2023 Marion Milligan Mason Award recipients are:

  • Ariel Furst, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Jessica Kramer, University of Utah
  • Denise Okafor, Penn State University
  • Alexandra Velian, University of Washington.

The award, granted every two years to either four or five women at the start of their academic research careers, grants each scientist $55,000 to support their basic research in the chemical sciences. Marion Milligan Mason Award winners also receive leadership development, mentoring opportunities, and a network of women in the chemical sciences.

The 2023 class of Mason awardees represent the promise of early-career researchers in the chemical sciences. AAAS is thrilled to be able to expand their research portfolio and to support their continued growth as leaders,” said Michael Feder, program director at AAAS, which administers the award and is home to the Marion Milligan Mason Fund.

Marion Milligan Mason’s Gift

The fund has supported researchers since 2015, but its roots date back much further.

Marion Milligan Tuttle Mason was born in 1927 to a family that valued education for women. She graduated from Vassar College in 1949 and, after working as a chemist, continued her education to earn a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Rutgers University. A AAAS member since 1965, she sought to both support women in chemistry and honor her own family’s commitment to women’s education. Upon Mason’s death in 2012, her estate bequeathed $2.2 million to AAAS.

“I am creating this fund in honor of the memory of all the men and women of the Tuttle and Milligan families who believed in higher education for women and encouraged them in their pursuit of professional and business careers,” Mason wrote in her will.

The scientists who have previously received the Mason Award have used the award as a launching point for decorated research careers, AAAS has found. Among the first 14 recipients, four received NSF CAREER awards after receiving the Mason Award, while nine have been promoted to associate professor and four have received tenure.

Said Susan Fullerton, a 2019 awardee and an associate professor at University of Pittsburgh, in reflecting on her Mason Award, “I’m confident that the enthusiasm for my work and exposure generated by the AAAS award in 2019 was helpful in winning a Sloan Fellowship in Chemistry in 2020, and in being named a Bicentennial Board of Visitors Faculty Fellow in my school of engineering in 2019.”

The award winners, who must be teaching or research staff members at American Ph.D.-granting institutions, are selected through a two-stage review process during which research proposals are judged on their potential to advance knowledge and understanding and to benefit society. The next round of applications will open in 2024.

2023 Awardees

Ariel L. Furst received a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago working with Professor Stephen B. H. Kent on the chemical synthesis of proteins. She then completed her Ph.D. in the lab of Professor Jacqueline K. Barton at the California Institute of Technology developing new cancer diagnostic strategies based on DNA charge transport. She was then an A. O. Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Professor Matthew Francis at the University of California, Berkeley. She is now an assistant professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at MIT. She is passionate about STEM outreach and increasing participation of underrepresented groups in engineering.

Jessica Kramer joined the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Utah in January 2017. Kramer obtained an Honors B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Utah, where she performed undergraduate research in the lab of Professor C. Dale Poulter. She then worked in industry for Echelon Biosciences Inc. synthesizing phosphoinositide and isoprenoid compounds and related assay products. Kramer began graduate studies in the lab of Professor Tim Deming in UCLA's Chemistry Department and obtained her Ph.D. in 2012. Her studies were partially funded by an NSF training grant. In 2013, Kramer joined the lab of Professor Carolyn Bertozzi at UC Berkeley and Stanford as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow and a UC Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow. Kramer's research efforts have been recognized with numerous awards including an NSF CAREER award, the international Dream Chemistry Award, the Henkel Award for Outstanding Graduate Research in Polymer Chemistry, Norma Stoddart Prize, Saul and Sylvia Winstein Dissertation Award, Excellence in Graduate Polymer Research Award, and presented an experiment for former Utah Governor and U.S. presidential candidate John M. Huntsman.

Denise Okafor received her B.S. in biomedical chemistry from Oral Roberts University. She earned an M.S. in chemistry and a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her dissertation research was focused on the metallobiochemistry of RNA, investigating RNA folding and function as mediated by divalent cations magnesium and iron. Her postdoctoral research in the Ortlund lab at Emory University was focused on nuclear receptors, a family of ligand-regulated transcription factors. She used molecular dynamics simulations to investigate the mechanisms underlying ligand activation in nuclear receptors. As an NIH-IRACDA postdoctoral fellow, Okafor also taught at Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta.

Alexandra Velian’s research group is pursuing the total synthesis of atomically-precise inorganic nanomaterials for catalytic, electronic and quantum information applications. In 2020, Velian received the NSF CAREER award funding work on elucidating and harnessing metal-support interactions in single atom catalysts using designer nanoclusters as functional models. Originally from Romania, Velian completed her undergraduate studies in chemistry at Caltech. As the first member of Professor Theodor Agapie’s group, she developed the synthesis of low-valent mono- and bimetallic complexes supported by a terphenyl diphosphine framework. She then received her Ph.D. under the direction of Professor Christopher C. Cummins at MIT, where she developed the synthesis of anthracene and niobium-supported precursors to reactive phosphorus fragments and studied their behavior using chemical, spectroscopic, and computational methods. For her work, she was awarded the Alan Davison Prize for the Best Thesis in Inorganic Chemistry at MIT, and the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Young Investigator Award. Following her Ph.D., Velian was a Materials Research Science & Engineering Center postdoctoral fellow with Professor Colin Nuckolls at Columbia University, where she worked on creating well-defined functional nanostructures by linking atomically precise metal chalcogenide clusters.


Andrea Korte

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