The Virginia Tech College of Science has appointed Professor Amanda Morris as chair of its Department of Chemistry. Morris started her new role Aug. 10.

She takes over from Alan Esker, who has served as chair of the department since 2018.

“The Department of Chemistry is an exciting place to work,” Morris said. “We have recruited a strong class of young and talented professors during the past 10 years. We have more research expenditures today than in the past decade — and it keeps growing. Our instructor core is incredibly strong with award-winning lecturers dedicated to innovative pedagogy to support our ever-diversifying student population. Furthermore, we have a dedicated family of staff that help everything run smoothly.

“I am excited to support the entire team and elevate the chemistry program over the next four years through strategic investment in department-identified priority areas.”

Morris earned her bachelor’s degree from Penn State and her master’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 2007 and 2009, respectively. She then served as a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University before arriving at Virginia Tech in 2011. Her early academic career was devoted to addressing critical environmental issues with fundamental science, including water remediation, solar energy harvesting and storage, and carbon dioxide conversion.

Since arriving in Blacksburg, Morris has published more than 60 peer-reviewed articles and multiple agencies and foundations have awarded her grants, an acknowledgement of the importance of her research program. She has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the Office of Vice President for Research and Innovation Faculty Fellow in 2019. She also received the Inter-American Photochemical Society Young Investigator Award in 2017, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 2016, and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2016.

“I’d like to thank Dr. Esker for his excellent leadership of the Department of Chemistry over the past four years,” said Kevin Pitts, dean of the College of Science.

“I’m confident that Dr. Morris will drive the department’s exciting and transformative research program to greater heights,” Pitts said, “and at the same time, she is determined to help students from diverse backgrounds become part of the fabric of scientific education at Virginia Tech.”

Morris' research efforts are inspired by nature’s photosynthetic system and have led to advances in catalysis and light-harvesting mimics, specifically in the realm of metal organic frameworks. Her investigations of energy transfer phenomena in metal organic frameworks have led to transformative scientific results that have broken previous scientific precedence and have significant implications for energy transfer systems.

In addition to her academic and research success, Morris embodies Virginia Tech’s motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) with her demonstrated record in service, including the recruitment and retention of minority and under-represented chemists. Recognizing this work, she was presented the Presidential Principles of Community Award, the Alan F. Clifford Service Award, and College of Science Diversity Award.

“Everyone benefits from a diverse workforce that can provide different viewpoints based on their varied life experiences. Beyond that, there is much work to be done to ensure that those diverse populations feel welcomed and included. Being a diverse faculty member myself, I greatly appreciate the benefits of diversity and the work needed to ensure true inclusion,” said Morris, the Patricia Caldwell Faculty Fellow in the College of Science.

“The only way to enact real change is for someone to do the hard work, which I will always step up to the plate to do. I have witnessed incredible success in diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect. From seeing a student pass a class when they didn't believe it was possible to seeing changes in university policy that led to the creation of cultural and community centers on campus," she said.

“These achievements have only solidified my passion for academic service.”

She currently serves as an American Chemical Society Expert in the area of sustainable energy and, through this effort, has worked to communicate science to the broader national audience with interviews on National Public Radio, newspaper editorials, and press conferences. Additionally, she serves as an associate editor of Chemical Physics Reviews and sits on the editorial advisory boards for ACS Applied Energy Materials and EnergyChem.

Related stories

Six College of Science faculty receive fellowships from Board of Visitors to support research

Amanda Morris’ chemistry lab mimicking how plants energize in bid to create clean, sustainable energy

Amanda Morris named a young leader in chemical sciences by Dreyfus Foundation

Share this story