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Wagenknecht recognized by Council on Undergraduate Research

Paul Wagenknecht, Department of Chemistry.

Last updated December 7, 2022

By Tina Underwood

Furman Chemistry Professor Paul Wagenknecht ’86 knows the importance of photocatalysts in harnessing energy. He also understands how vital his role is as mentor for the development of students in his lab. In recognition of his outstanding mentorship, the Council on Undergraduate Research has named Wagenknecht one of four 2022 awardees in CUR’s chemistry division.

He spoke to CUR podcast “Chem4Real” host Vanessa McCaffrey about the ChemCUR Outstanding Mentorship Award. In the 30-minute session, Wagenknecht touched on his current research including the use of photocatalysts for converting light into electricity or fuels. He also discussed the mentees he has shepherded along the way and how they have contributed to his own growth as a scientist.

In addition to showing appreciation for Furman’s John Wheeler, chemistry professor and associate provost for integrative science, and two other researchers who nominated him for the award, Wagenknecht credited a “string of undergraduates eager to get their hands dirty in the lab.” He gave a nod to supportive administration and colleagues at Furman, as well as the full complement of facilities and instrumentation available for carrying out the work.

Toward the end of the podcast, Wagenknecht addressed the surprising effect COVID-19 had on his lab in terms of building expertise in computational chemistry with assistance from Furman Chemistry Professor George Shields.

Wagenknecht wrapped the program with words of advice.

“So much of it comes down to the relationships that you’ve made because science is really collaborative. Just keep making as many of those connections as possible,” he said.

Wagenknecht returned to his alma mater in 2004 after earning his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at Stanford through an NSF Graduate Fellowship and launching a tenure track position at San Jose State University.

Throughout his career, he has secured nearly $3 million in external funding to support undergraduate research. Since beginning his independent career with undergraduate researchers, he has published nearly 40 peer-reviewed scholarly articles (mostly with student coauthors), and he holds two patents. He is the recipient of the 2020 South Carolina Governor’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Research.

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