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Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
June 13, 2006
DeKalb, Ill. —With the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Illinois University on an upswing, Jon Carnahan is hoping to take it to a new level.
“We have an opportunity to become a force in Illinois and in the nation,” says Carnahan, a veteran NIU professor who officially took over as chemistry chair this month.
He replaces James Erman, who has retired after 36 years of service to the university, the last eight as chemistry chair. Under Erman, a Distinguished Research Professor, the department expanded its research role and further cemented its reputation for producing high quality graduates.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) has ranked the department, which boasts about 140 undergraduate majors, among the top 25 in the nation for the number of ACS-certified bachelor’s degrees awarded annually. The NIU department also is well known for producing highly sought after chemistry and science teachers.
Another 50 students are working toward graduate degrees in chemistry and biochemistry, including more than 30 who are pursuing Ph.D.s.
Carnahan, 50, of Sycamore, began his career at NIU in 1983, the same year he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. He has held the title of director of graduate studies in chemistry and biochemistry for more than a decade and personally served as research adviser to 18 Ph.D. graduates.
Carnahan also has been active in departmental and university-wide committees. He has served in various capacities in numerous national societies, most notably as the governing board chair for the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies.
“Jon will be an excellent chair because he has a wealth of administrative experience, is an excellent team player and possesses a good sense of humor,” says Joseph Grush, acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Jon knows what he is doing, he does it well, and he does it fairly.”
Carnahan also is a widely published scholar. His research team focuses on the development of new optical spectrometric methods of chemical analyses. The group’s research ranges from working with Pfizer Inc. developing methods to identify trace impurities in pharmaceutical drugs to working with NASA on ways to detect the presence or past presence of water on planets and other celestial bodies.
Carnahan hopes to ramp up the amount of external funding awarded to his department for research.
“We’re training our students well, and they’re getting good jobs, so we want to keep that up,” Carnahan says. “But one of my primary goals will be to enhance external funding. We’re at a crucial period in our history in terms of development.”
The department’s reputation is making it easier to recruit top faculty researchers and graduate students, which ultimately should help Carnahan in his efforts to pump up external funding. He’s excited about the addition of three new faculty members who will join the department next fall.
“If this were a basketball team,” Carnahan says, “it would be akin to bringing in three All-Americans.”
Working closely with Carnahan in recent months, Erman has helped make the transition smooth. He’ll still be a familiar face in the Faraday facilities on campus, where he continues to conduct research on the structure and function of heme proteins from various sources, including bacteria, yeast and higher organisms.
“The department will be in good hands with Jon,” Erman says. “But I’ll still be around. I’m going to be an active emeritus professor. I still have a research grant and one doctoral student working with me, so I’ll maintain an office and small lab in the chemistry department.
“You just can’t go cold turkey,” he adds.