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The Professor Is In: JaimeLee Rizzo

News Story

Recently named a 2017 American Chemical Society Fellow, Dyson’s JaimeLee Iolani Rizzo discusses research, Pace, and more in this month’s The Professor Is In.

Dyson Professor of Chemistry and Physical Sciences JaimeLee Iolani Rizzo, PhD, is having quite the year. She was named a 2017 American Chemical Society Fellow, an honor reserved for scientists around the nation who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in chemistry and made important contributions to ACS, the world’s largest scientific society. The ACS Fellows induction ceremony took place in Washington, DC at the National ACS Meeting this past August. In the spring, she was awarded the E. Ann Nalley Regional Award for Volunteer Service to the ACS.

Rizzo talked to us about her recent accomplishments, current research, and who she’d invite to what would prove to be a rather enlightening dinner party.

Congratulations on being named a 2017 American Chemical Society Fellow!
To be recognized by your fellow chemists for not just your research, but for your service to the American Chemical Society and community, is an extreme honor. It is the most prestigious award I’ve received—never in my dreams did I think I’d be named an ACS fellow!

You’re the advisor of Pace’s Chem Club, which has also received some recent ACS awards.
This was a great year for us! For the past three years we’ve received "honorable mention" awards from the ACS, and we said to ourselves, “Come on—we can do better than this!” So we tried to reinvent ourselves and give a closer look at what we could do for Pace and the community, and this year, the ACS named us an Outstanding Student Chapter, and we were also recognized as a Green Chemistry ChapterWe do a lot of outreach to local high schools and to the community at large and work diligently to bring an awareness of chemistry to the public. 

Now the pressure’s on, because we have to stay at the top!

What are you working on right now?
The focus of my research, along with my biology collaborator at LIU, has turned to more natural-based materials and surfaces that kill bacteria on contact. For example, some of our newly synthesized materials are based on agar, infused with a variety of exotic oils—which are then tested against microbes. We have other materials based on beeswax and exotic butters which are infused with different essential oils and tested against microbes. Some are highly effective, some are not as effective, so we’re trying to narrow down reaction conditions to determine what works and what doesn’t. 

We have another project, separate from these natural surfaces, where we modify different type of material—for example, one is 86% polyester, 14% spandex—and we modify them with our patent-protected process. These are tested against bacteria and fungi—for clothing, for wound dressings, water filtration, etc.

We’re also working with a company on treating the soles of wrestler’s shoes with our antimicrobial patenting technology. We’re looking at various concentrations and reaction times to determine highest efficacy. 

What is your favorite thing about working at Pace?
The student population is wonderful! I absolutely love teaching and totally enjoy my organic chemistry courses! I get to know students by name; I’m sure they enjoy that part, too, as I get to call on them by name during lectures! I like that our department is small, and we have what I feel is a great department. We’re like family here. We’re all working toward the same goal—helping our department grow and helping our students succeed!

If you could host a dinner party for four people, living or dead, who would you invite?

  • > Buddha—I would love to have a conversation with him about suffering and enlightenment.
  • > Jesus—To be in his loving presence and hear his views on faith.
  • > My husband, Steve—He's my FAVORITE person! Enough said. <3
  • > My mom, Rochelle—My mom is a true Christian who practices forgiveness and acceptance. Also, I would be in BIG trouble if I had a dinner party with Jesus and did not invite her! :D