IWU Professor Receives Record-Setting Grant
April 3, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Illinois Wesleyan University Associate Professor of Chemistry
Ram Mohan has received a $380,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)
to continue his groundbreaking work on green chemistry. It is the largest grant
in the history of the chemistry department.
The fact that NSF bestowed the grant is unique, said Mohan. “It is extremely unusual
for a four-year school to receive a renewal grant,” he said. “The grants typically
go to larger, research schools.” The money is a renewal grant for Mohan’s research.
He received a $205,000 grant in 2003.
The grant is particularly exciting for Illinois Wesleyan, because it will enable
Mohan to create a post-doctorate research fellowship, the first for the University.
“We are delighted that a postdoctoral researcher will be joining Dr. Mohan’s
team,” said Rebecca Roesner, IWU chemistry department chair. “This highly trained
associate will allow Dr. Mohan to extend his research in new directions.”
Mohan, a member of the IWU faculty since 1996, works to discover environmentally
friendly processes for chemists to use at pharmaceutical and other companies. “We
do not create the life-saving drugs or the pesticides,” said Mohan. “We develop
the processes that can be used to make products in a way that will not harm the
The search for earth-friendly ways to create products has been a goal of Mohan
for the last eight years. “It’s ironic that people created life-savings drugs
and useful plastics, and no one paid attention to how we got there. In the past,
anti-cancer drugs would be created using cancer-causing materials,” he said. “Now
we are making efforts to make the process more compatible with the environment.”
Currently, Mohan and his team of eight undergraduate students are working with
bismuth compounds. “Bismuth is one of the least toxic metals,” said Mohan. “Say
a company has eight steps to create an anti-cancer drug, and step three is damaging
to the environment. Our research makes them ask, ‘Can we use bismuth in step three?’”
Mohan likes to point out that most people know how tame bismuth is by the anti-acid
that bears its name, PEPTO-BISMOL.
Justin Ernat, a senior chemistry major from Oglesby, Ill., is one of the students
on Mohan’s team. “I think it’s important that we are helping people envision safer
ways of conducting research,” he said.
The concept of green chemistry is taking hold in many industries, said Mohan. “It
is impractical and a little ridiculous to say you simply want to ban chemicals,”
he said. “But it is realistic to replace the toxic chemicals with non-toxic
ones and replace harmful processes with those that are benign to the environment.”
IWU offers Mohan a unique opportunity to combine two of his loves–research and
teaching. “I could have gone to a bigger school, but I admired that Illinois Wesleyan
supports research while valuing teaching.”
The work of Mohan and his team will continue. “I’ve always had an interest in the
environment,” said Mohan. “I hope we all have a desire to make the world a little
For more information about the grant, or Mohan’s work, contact Sherry Wallace in
University Communications at (309) 556-3792.
A graduate of Hansraj College in Delhi, India, Mohan holds a master’s degree in
organic chemistry from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the
University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He conducted postdoctoral research at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mohan was the 2002 winner of the
University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Distinguished Alumnus Award and a
2001 winner of the national Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award.
Contact: Sherry Wallace, (309) 556-3792