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Purchase Professor Expects Students to Benefit From His Grant

HARRISON, N.Y. – Science education at Purchase College saw a boost in morale last week when Assistant Professor of Chemistry Stephen Cooke received a $44,086 grant for developing a new educational tool to examine molecules in space.

The grant, provided by the National Science Foundation, will be shared between Cooke and his research collaborator Stewart Novick, a chemistry professor at Wesleyan University.

"Creativity even in the sciences and the use of imagination in building scientific techniques, are strongly emphasized at Purchase," Cooke said. "Purchase students are creative people in general and, in contrast to others, they tend to grasp the larger implications of a concept almost immediately."

The instrument Cooke helped develop was a type of Fourier transform microwave spectrometer used for the study of molecules and works by shining radio waves onto potential interstellar molecules and examining the response, he said.

"Understanding the chemistry of the universe has implications for the way we understand the development of life and its origins," Cooke said. "It is essential for studying the chemical composition of stars and more complex bodies in space."

Cooke said he views his contribution as advancement of the Purchase mission to integrate creative strategies into all forms of study, including the sciences.

"Since Purchase is known as an excellent school for the arts, I think the students who come here for science are interested in being amongst the artistic community and in using creativity for problem-solving," he said.

The project receiving the grant represents only one aspect of Cooke's ongoing research, which is focused on the shapes of molecules, the school said. Using the instruments he developed, Cooke often observes unique features of molecular structure, he said.

The award applies to the fourth and final year of the project, which is now complete. The next phase is to deploy the instrument in a class setting to enrich the training of chemistry students.

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