Chemistry Prof. Kelly Chacón Named Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar

The award honors young faculty and comes with an unrestricted research grant of $75,000, which Chacón will use toward their work in bioinorganic spectroscopy.

By Rebecca Jacobson | December 21, 2022

Kelly Chacón, associate professor of chemistry, has been named a Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar for 2022. 

The award, given by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation and based on institutional nominations, “honors young faculty in the chemical sciences who have created an outstanding independent body of scholarship and are deeply committed to education with undergraduates.” Each of this year’s eight Teacher-Scholars receives an unrestricted research grant of $75,000.

Chacón, who arrived at Reed in 2015, has been a fast-rising figure in the chemical sciences. In 2020 they won a $650,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, the institution’s most prestigious award for pre-tenure faculty. That grant, given to early-career scientists with a special talent for research and education, helped fund Chacón's ongoing research on tellurium, a heavy metal that's seeing increasing use in technological infrastructure but whose toxicity causes environmental contamination and risks to the miners who extract it. Chacón works in bioinorganic spectroscopy, studying enzymes that can break down these toxic tellurium ions, potentially leading to the bioremediation of contaminated soils and safer methods of mining. Since winning the NSF grant, Chacón has received tenure and in the 2023-2024 academic year will begin their appointment as Arthur F. Scott Professor of Chemistry.

As a queer Latinx first-gen scientist, Chacón has become an outspoken advocate for students from historically marginalized groups. They’re also known for working closely with undergraduates in their lab. The American Chemical Society recently included them in a special magazine feature on LGBTQ+ trailblazers, noting that Chacón spent five years working alongside undergraduates to collect the data that laid the foundation for their NSF grant.

Chacón plans to use much of the Dreyfus grant to fund travel—for themself as well as for their students—to conferences both domestically and internationally. The grant will also help cover costs for students to travel to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, where they will do X-ray absorption spectroscopy with Chacón.

Tags: Academics, Awards & Achievements, Professors