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Nanomaterials Expert Visits Ursinus as Jean Dreyfus Lecturer for Undergraduate Institutions

Amy L. Prieto, a leader in the field of nanomaterials research for applications in energy storage and conversion, delivered a public lecture titled “Inexpensive, Efficient Approaches for Developing New Battery Technologies.” Funding for Prieto’s visit was awarded to the chemistry department by the prestigious Jean Dreyfus Lectureship for Undergraduate Institutions from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. 

The Nov. 21 lecture followed a day packed with events and meetings with student groups and faculty.

Dreyfus lecturers spend more than one day at an institution to substantively interact with undergraduate students and a broad range of faculty over the period of the visit.

“We were very fortunate to get the funding from the Dreyfus Foundation,” Amanda Reig, an associate professor of chemistry, said. “We were drawn to the idea of inviting Dr. Prieto here because her research is, of course, very applicable and interesting. Fortuitously, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year was about lithium-ion batteries, which is one of her areas of research.”

As a professor of chemistry at Colorado State University, Prieto’s contributions to the field of nanotechnology have been recognized by an ExxonMobil Solid State Chemistry Faculty Fellowship in 2011; a Presidential Early Career Award (PECASE) in 2012; and the Agnes Fay Morgan Research Award from the Iota Sigma Pi honorary society for women in chemistry in 2014. In 2009, she founded Prieto Battery, Inc., a start-up company based on her research with the goal of commercializing a patented 3D lithium-ion battery technology.

Before delivering her lecture in Pfahler’s Musser Auditorium, Prieto met with faculty, toured campus and spoke to an Advanced Inorganic Chemistry class. She also ate lunch with the Women in Technology and Science (WiTS) group, met with students from the U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies, and had dinner with student fellows from the Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good and the office of sustainability.

During her lunch with WiTS, Prieto shared some wisdom with women across multiple scientific majors and disciplines including chemistry, biology and physics. The discussion, full of personal anecdotes and years’ worth of experiences, covered a variety of topics, such as identifying the best grad-school fit and handling possible discrimination from colleagues and bosses. The conversation helped to prepare and empower the students for success in their various STEM fields post-Ursinus.

Prieto also shared information about her own business and how different it can be to her job as a professor. “In my company, things are supposed to go fast,” she said, “but in academics you really get to focus on people.”

One of her most important suggestions for young women—whether they plan to enter the workforce immediately after graduation or attend graduate school—was to invest time looking for the right mentors. “There should always be at least three people you are interested in” when looking for a lab or adviser, said Prieto. She cautioned against falling into the trap of simply accepting any offer that comes your way.

Prieto also spoke to an overflowing audience of U-Imagine Center’s entrepreneurs, sharing details and life lessons from her experience taking technology from development to the business side of things, with plenty of mistakes in between.

Her visit was arranged by the chemistry department and co-sponsored by Ursinus’s Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good and the U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies. –By Mary Lobo ’15