Carnegie Mellon University
March 14, 2018

Terry Collins and PGSS Campaign Win Carnegie Science Awards

By Ben Panko

The Carnegie Science Center has named green chemistry expert Terry Collins and the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS) Campaign winners of its Carnegie Science Awards.

Collins, the Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, has received this year's Environmental Award from the Carnegie Science Center for his innovative work in low-cost yet highly effective water purification.

Dozens of synthetic compounds used by people today in household products, medicines, foods and pesticides are micropollutants — substances that can harm humans and the environment in relatively small amounts. Most of these chemicals end up washed down drains into our wastewater, where traditional treatment methods are unable to fully remove them. Instead, they are released into streams, rivers and lakes where they can eventually return to us in our drinking water. Similarly, micropollutants often contaminate agricultural and industrial wastewater. 

For more than two decades, Collins, who directs Carnegie Mellon's Institute for Green Science, has been perfecting a technique to remove those micropollutants in a safe, effective and affordable way. He has developed a group of catalysts known as NewTAML activators that act like oxidizing enzymes to break down harmful chemicals in water. NewTAML catalyst technologies have been repeatedly shown to easily and safely remove from water harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals such as natural and synthetic estrogens and BPA, a compound used in making many plastics and can linings, triclosan, a common disinfectant, and many other drugs that can harm aquatic organisms at low doses.

"Dr. Terry Collins is a pioneer in the field of green chemistry, and his body of work, particularly his advancements in water treatment, make him a wonderful awardee in this category," said Chris Hartigan, Chair of the Selection Committee for the Environmental Award. "Green chemistry and innovative water-treatment technologies are vital to maintaining and improving our standard of living, while reducing toxic impacts to our environment." 

The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS) Campaign received the Leadership in Stem Education Award for its work in restarting the PGSS and for its sustained efforts to attract funding and support for the program that offers an immersive experience for the state’s top science students.

PGSS, which is hosted by Carnegie Mellon’s Mellon College of Science, first began in 1982 as one of a number of Governor’s Schools of Excellence. The Governor’s School Program was cut from the state budget in 2009. This was a great disappointment to PGSS alumni who felt that the program was a pivotal part of their lives. The alumni established the PGSS Campaign to help bring the program back and they raised enough money to reestablish the program in 2013. They have continued to work to raise funds from individual donors, including alumni, parents and friends of the program, and corporate sponsors. The PGSS Campaign hopes to support the program through 2019. 

“PGSS has been transformational for the students who participate. It gives them the opportunity to live alongside likeminded students as they develop skills that will help them as they pursue further education and careers in science,” said Barry Luokkala, PGSS program director and teaching professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon. “The campaign itself is a testament to the impact the program has on students. The PGSS Campaign has ensured that we can bring the same experience to students now and into the future.”

In the program approximately 60 rising high school seniors from across the state come to Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus for the 5-week-long program. They take courses in biology, chemistry, computer science, math, physics and a range of electives. The highlight of the program is a self-guided team research project on a topic of their choosing, which is supervised by a PGSS faculty member.

The Carnegie Science Awards were established in 1997 to recognize and promote outstanding science and technology achievements in western Pennsylvania. More than 550 organizations and individuals have been recognized by the awards in the fields of science, technology and education for their impact on the region’s industrial, academic and environmental vitality.

The Carnegie Science Awards will be presented at a banquet on May 4 at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.