SUNY Oswego chemistry faculty member Dr. Vadoud Niri recently was named recipient of the 2018 Provost's Award for Mentoring in Scholarly and Creative Activity.

Best known for the global media attention paid to his student-assisted research on houseplants' ability to scour volatile chemicals from the air, Niri will receive the honor during a recognition ceremony at this fall's Academic Affairs Retreat.

Chemistry department chair Dr. Fehmi Damkaci called Niri "a great scholarly mentor," and noted that Niri routinely has at least double the expected number of students, both graduates and undergraduates, under his wing for highly detailed projects in the college's Analytical Chemistry Research Lab, including summers.

One of them, Kimberly LaGatta, said she made a "seamless" transition from the college's undergraduate program to graduate school at SUNY Oswego, thanks to Niri's guidance.

"During the academic year and the summer session, he gives us our own autonomy with our research projects," she wrote in a letter of support for Niri's award. "He is a balanced amount of hands on with respect to helping us, but also the right amount of hands off when we have a good handle on what we're doing."

Christopher Pitts, who earned a biochemistry degree in 2014 and a master's in chemistry in 2017 from SUNY Oswego, said Niri fosters an "early start culture that allows students to leap ahead of their peers and sets them up for the future." That willingness to mentor young students and teach them how to use lab instruments such as a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer helped Pitts move through the degree programs and into a laboratory-based professional career.

"In Niri's lab, you will find sophomores, juniors and occasionally over the summer, a student who just completed their freshman year," Pitts wrote. "This allows students to not only work with a committed advisor, but also to be surrounded by other experienced students."

Low-key style

Niri joined the chemistry faculty in 2013. His faculty mentor, Dr. Jeffery Schneider, noted that Niri has published two journal articles that had multiple student authors, with two more in preparation, and made more than 40 presentations with students at the national, regional and local levels, including several national meetings of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

In 2016, the ACS published a graphic animation of the Oswego team's experimental approach to showing that five common houseplants act as bio-filters to remove potentially hazardous chemicals such as acetone from the air. After a Washington Post columnist picked it up, news of the research went global, and still appears in the science mass media and "green" websites from time to time.

In his low-key, self-effacing style, Niri credits his five SUNY Oswego student co-researchers before himself when citing that and other student-assisted research presentations.

"It should come as no surprise that Dr. Niri advises so many students," wrote Pitts. "The research he has to offer is interesting and applicable to the modern world. I believe that it his demeanor that draws students in. Dr. Niri is kind, soft-spoken and extremely approachable. He will also be honest with you when you need to increase your effort."

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