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Ph.D. Student Named Underrepresented Chemist of Color by Merck

June 25, 2021
Graduate student Ali Abou Taka is one of 12 students to receive the inaugural Merck Research Award for Underrepresented Chemists of Color.

Chemistry and Chemical Biology graduate student Ali Abou Taka is one of 12 students to receive the inaugural Merck Research Award for Underrepresented Chemists of Color.

Abou Taka, a Ph.D. student in Professor Hrant Hratchian’s lab, studies the transition of metal complexes that play a critical role in chemical catalysis and the production of green energy. In 2018, Abou Taka succeeded in explaining experimental results on the hydrolysis of titania — an inexpensive, extensively studied and environmentally benign semiconducting material with widespread photovoltaic applications. Titania is important for the clean energy sector, pollution management, chemical sensing and heterogeneous catalysis.

Another recent area of his research involves the development of an efficient method for calculating electronic excited states, which is of interest in photochemistry, analytical chemistry, materials science and biology.

“Receiving the 2021 Research Award for Underrepresented Chemists of Color by Merck pharmaceuticals motivates me as a refugee and a scientist of color to excel and defeat preset low expectations,” said Abou Taka, who is from Beirut. “Being a Merck fellow will open doors for collaborative work and further highlight the importance of the synergistic interactions between experimentalists and theorists that my doctoral work encompasses.”

Each awardee will be paired with a mentor and a senior mentor and will have the opportunity to present their research at Merck.

After completing his Ph.D., Abou Taka will pursue a postdoctoral position that will prepare him to become a professor at a research university.

“My goal is to be a role model to help and motivate underrepresented students of color to pursue their ambitions and surpass low expectations,” he said.