Campus: CSU Los Angeles -- December 8, 2004

Cal State L.A. Chemistry Faculty Honored with Prestigious Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

Matthias Selke (South Pasadena resident), associate professor of chemistry at California State University, Los Angeles, has been awarded the prestigious Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award for 2004. The Foundation presents each scientist with a $60,000 award to be used for research. Cal State L.A.'s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry receives $5,000 of the total award.

Selke is one of only nine scientists across the nation to receive the award this year. The Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award supports the teaching and research careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences.

Faculty in Chemistry or Chemistry/Biochemistry departments at Amherst College, Bates College, Colby College, Concordia College, Santa Clara University, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and Wheaton College were also honored.

Dr. Selke and his students are conducting research in the area of oxygen chemistry. "Oxygen is of course essential for life," says Selke, "but at the same time, it can be toxic."

Selke explains that many biomolecules, such as DNA or amino acids, can be destroyed by so-called reactive oxygen species-compounds that contain one or several oxygen atoms and are highly reactive. "Reactive oxygen species are often mistakenly equated with free radicals," Selke says, noting that "some reactive oxygen species are indeed radicals, but others are not."

One of the reactive oxygen species that is not a free radical is singlet oxygen, formed when light, certain dyes, pigments or other biomolecules interact with oxygen molecules. Adds Selke: "Singlet oxygen is probably one of the active species in photodynamic cancer therapy."

Selke's team has been exploring the chemistry of amino acids bound to metal centers (common in many enzymes) as well as the chemistry of singlet oxygen with compounds containing phosphorus and sulfur atoms. The aims of his team's research are three-fold:

  • to solve a number of fundamental mechanistic questions in oxidation chemistry, especially in biological systems
  • to find new useful oxidants derived from the most benign oxidant, i.e. dioxygen, and
  • to study organometallic singlet oxygen chemistry for the development of new routes to photodynamic cancer therapy.
"While the applications mentioned above are of course important, what really motivates me in my research is trying to ask questions about basic scientific issues. Whether or not an approach is useful may only become apparent years after it has been explored," says Selke.

To Selke, what is unique about the research conducted at CSULA is that "all of the work has involved undergraduate students, and most of them have been coauthors on one or several publications in major peer-reviewed journals." He continues: "It is essential to understand that doing research with undergraduates is teaching, and I can at least say for myself, doing research with undergraduates makes me a better teacher. I've been really fortunate that this teacher-scholar model has been favored in the CSULA chemistry department for many decades."

Selke received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles. He is a specialist in organic chemistry, bioorganic chemistry and the role of metals in biology. He is particularly interested in biological oxidation reactions, damage to enzymes by so-called reactive oxygen species, and antioxidants. His research also includes the development of new sensitizers for photodynamic cancer therapy. His research interests are not limited to chemistry-he has been studying long-term climate cycles in Southern California and is an expert on the climatological history of Los Angeles. His interests encompass political economy and philosophy of science. His several awards include a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Faculty Start-up Award and a Siemens Mentor Recognition Award for his involvement of high school students in scientific research.

Contact: Margie Yu, Public Affairs Specialist, (323) 343-3047

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