Research Recap For March 7: Chemistry teacher-scholar research grant and solar fuel research

Western’s faculty and students are engaged in exciting research and scholarship across a variety of fields. Each week, Western Today will share short summaries of the latest developments in scholarly work at the University. Interested in reading in-depth stories about science and research at Western? Go to Gaia, the university's online journal of research, discovery and scholarship, and subscribe (it's free) to that site by clicking the "Follow" button. Want more research news? Follow @WWUResearch on Twitter.

Amanda Murphy

Professor of Chemistry and Director of AMSEC Amanda Murphy has been named a Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar and received a $75,000 unrestricted research grant that will provide funds for a summer research stipend, research supplies, and travel to a scientific conference for one undergraduate student per year for the next five years.   

This is the second year in a row a Western faculty member has been named a Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar. The award honors eight young faculty in the chemical sciences who have created an outstanding independent body of scholarship and are deeply committed to education with undergraduates.    

Murphy’s research aims to manipulate the surface chemistry, mechanical properties and 3D architecture of biomaterials for optimal function as artificial muscles, bioelectronic devices and drug delivery vehicles. Currently, she has seven undergraduate and two graduate students working in her lab. 

"Undergraduate research sets the stage for a successful career. Students’ time in the lab allows them to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their careers, whether that be in research or in another direction entirely,” says Murphy, who completed her undergraduate degree at Western. "I wanted to come back to where I started. Western's undergraduate-focused environment allows more time for getting to know students, outreach, and teaching. It is a more holistic approach than institutions solely focused on research."   

Murphy is part of the chemistry department, but her group is interdisciplinary, and students from chemistry, engineering, physics and biology have participated in her research projects. Murphy's ultimate goal for students is to get them to the point where they can create and test their own theories, collect the data, make conclusions, and form next steps, she said.  

Forty seven undergraduates and 7 graduate students have worked in Murphy's lab. Her students have won awards at national conferences for their lab work, and former students who have worked in her lab have gone to complete PhD programs or work in labs, including one student who was a part of the Moderna COVID vaccine team.   

A majority of the grant money will go to fund student research in the form of summer stipends.   

"Summer research opportunities are really critical, as the students are not taking classes and can dive much deeper into their project than is possible during the academic year when course work competes for their time," Murphy said.   

In addition to summer research, students will have the opportunity to attend academic conferences. Murphy's students typically attend the American Chemical Society conference which hosts thousands of attendees from across the world.  

To learn more about the work done in Murphy's lab or on how you can help support student research, visit 

Hannah Hennig

Hannah Hennig (she/her) is a second-year graduate student of chemistry who focuses on the development and characterization of photothermal catalysts. Specifically, Hennig’s research is centered around a reaction that satisfies a critical step in the production of solar fuels: optimizing the light-to-chemical energy efficiency of catalytic systems used in the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide (CO2).  

Hennig is a recipient of both the WWU Graduate Research Award, which contributed to the purchase of a light measurement system that she will use to quantify her findings, and the WWU Washington Space Grant Consortium Summer Research Award in 2021—a 10-week summer fellowship funded by NASA—for her thesis project, “Nickel Phosphide Photocatalyst Development for CO2-Derived Solar Fuels.”  

During her NASA-funded fellowship last summer, Hennig’s research was focused on studying different combinations of catalyst and support materials to gain insight on their respective roles in determining photothermal catalytic properties. She will present her findings this spring at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Conference and WWU’s Scholar’s week. 

Hennig is a member of the Bussell Group, a surface and materials chemistry-focused research group supervised by WWU Professor of Chemistry Mark Bussell. Hennig says Bussell fosters a collaborative work environment rooted in real-world applications and has been an excellent mentor in both research and writing. Hennig also recently received the WWU Ross Travel Grant, which supports graduate student travel for professional opportunities.

“It’s an awesome program that will cover the cost of airfare to the ACS conference in San Diego,” she says.

Between her undergraduate and graduate studies, Hennig worked in environmental analytical laboratories and developed a love for instrumentation and a deep appreciation for what she calls “the nitty-gritty parts of analytical work.” After graduating, she plans to return to industry with a focus on characterization and instrumental analysis. 


Hannah Hennig stands at a railing with a lake and mountains in the background