Chemistry professor receives National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Maria Landschoot
January 31, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Joseph Cotruvo Jr., Louis Martarano Career Development Professor of Chemistry, has been honored with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in recognition of his work to “understand the coordination of chemistry of lanthanide-binding proteins for rare earth element sensing, capture, and recycling.”

The CAREER award is the NSF's most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Joseph Cotruvo, Jr.

Joseph Cotruvo Jr.

IMAGE: Provided

The CAREER award will provide five years of funding to support Cotruvo’s research to gain a fundamental understanding of how some bacteria are able to bind and use lanthanides — rare earth metals used in smart phones and other technology — even in the presence of more abundant metals like calcium and iron.

By studying one of these bacteria, the Cotruvo group recently discovered and characterized the first lanthanide-binding proteins that are not enzymes. Because these novel proteins bind lanthanides reversibly and highly selectively, they may be used in the future to address the challenging chemical problem of harvesting lanthanides and other rare earth elements from the environment and from electronic waste. The Cotruvo group aims to use a variety of structural and spectroscopic methods to study one of these proteins, called lanmodulin, which binds lanthanides with nearly billion-fold selectivity over other metals.

Cotruvo’s academic achievements have been honored with the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation New Investigator Award in 2019, the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2013, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship in 2008.

Prior to joining the Penn State faculty in 2016, Cotruvo was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a doctoral degree in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012 and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Princeton University in 2006.

Last Updated January 31, 2020