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Dr. Chris Exstrom, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Leland Holdt/Security Mutual Life Award from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The UNK award recognizes an outstanding teacher-scholar for achievements that bring substantial credit to the university. The activity areas considered include teaching, research and service, with preference given to candidates who demonstrate high accomplishments in all three areas.
Dr. Exstrom noted: “In recent years, I have discovered that the most gratifying professional activities are those that integrate two, or all three, of these areas (teaching, research and service) in ways that make current developments in chemistry more accessible to UNK students and the greater Nebraska community.”
Although he has taught 15 different courses covering all levels of chemistry, and several chemistry sub-disciplines, inorganic chemistry is his specialty area. In 2006, he created the UNK Department of Chemistry Research Apprentice Program which gives 10-12 outstanding freshmen chemistry students an opportunity to join chemistry research groups as apprentices the following spring semester. The apprenticeships last eight weeks. Dr. Exstrom coordinates the recruitment of apprentices and serves as the primary contact for them during the process. Further, in addition to his face-to-face classroom teaching and mentoring student research, he has developed four graduate-level online courses for high school teachers.
In 2006, Dr. Exstrom’s research earned him the Pratt-Heins Award for Research and Scholarship. That same year, he was named the College of Natural and Social Sciences Research Faculty Mentor of the Year for his work with students and their research projects. Since joining the UNK Department of Chemistry in 1996, Dr. Exstrom has mentored 49 undergraduate research students.
“My current research in the development and study of solar cell materials has dramatically enhanced our department’s research infrastructure and student research opportunities,” he said. He has worked in collaboration with Dr. Scott Darveau in the UNK chemistry department, and Drs. Rod Soukup and Ned Ianno in the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Department of Electrical Engineering on the development of solar cell materials since 1999.
“Our group was the first in the world to prepare CIGS nanocrystals using an open-air synthesis method,” he said.
“I led this line of development at UNK independently,” he said. “As the only research group in Nebraska that specializes in our method of chemically preparing semiconductor materials, we have attracted additional research collaborations that branch out into areas involving thermoelectric materials, hybrid organic/inorganic solar cells, high-energy capacitor materials, and nanocrystalline sensors.” Currently, Dr. Exstrom holds four patents on chemical sensors.
In all, he has been involved in writing 10 externally-funded grants totaling $2.73 million from the National Science Foundation, NASA, U.S. Department of Energy, Nebraska Research Initiative, American Chemical Society and the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement.
In support of Dr. Exstrom’s nomination for the award, Dr. Mike Mosher, UNK Department of Chemistry chair, wrote: “The national impact of his work on solar cell materials has produced no less that $2 million since 2000 in support of his research, teaching and service at UNK. This includes funds for education-related research, summer science camps, service contracts to support the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, and basic research on solvatochromism and solar cell research.”