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Department of Defense awards pair of Mizzou researchers separate grants totaling nearly $14 million

Mizzou one of only three institutions to receive multiple awards

May 1st, 2019

Story Contact: Eric Stann, 573-882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded two highly competitive Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative awards for 2019 to research teams led by a pair of University of Missouri researchers from the Department of Chemistry. Arthur Suits, a professor of chemistry, and his team will receive up to $6.25 million over the next five years. Tommy Sewell, a professor of chemistry, and his team will receive up to $7.5 million over the next five years.

Since the program’s inception in 1985, the Department of Defense has awarded yearly funding to multidisciplinary research teams from higher education institutions to pursue basic research that spans many scientific areas. This year, a total of 24 awards were given, and Mizzou was one of only three higher education institutions to receive more than one award.

Controlling chemical reactions

For Suits, manipulating and controlling the outcome of chemical reactions is a dream, and now that dream could be one step closer to reality. To him, chemistry is fundamentally about the scattering of molecules, or molecular collisions. The goal of his team’s project is to create a toolkit that will not only help scientists better understand how chemical reactions occur, but also give scientists the ability to control chemical reactions.

“It’s pushing the scientific frontier and training the next generation of scientists,” Suits said.

Suits’ interdisciplinary team includes physicists and chemists from Stanford University; Harvard University; the University of Colorado Boulder; the University of New Mexico; and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Predicting explosive safety and performance

When NASA or Space X sends a rocket into space, human lives and millions of dollars are at stake. Sewell and his team are working — through a theoretical framework reinforced by specifically designed experiments — to predict the behavior of energetic materials such as military munitions, rocket propellants, pyrotechnics and industrial explosives.

“The goal is to reduce accidents, improve safety and be able to design energetic formulations that would have much more tightly tailored performance,” Sewell said.

To build this framework, Sewell’s interdisciplinary team will comb through large amounts of experimental and simulated data using artificial intelligence. Sewell will co-lead his project with H.S. Udaykumar of the University of Iowa, and the two will collaborate with researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University, Purdue University and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

Editor’s Note: For more on the story, please see: DoD Awards Propel Research in Chemistry and Materials Science