“I do research for three reasons,” said Cornell College chemistry professor Craig Teague. “One reason is to help society, another is to benefit students, and the other is just learning about the natural world.”
Those three reasons have come together for Teague at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), one of the premier facilities in the US for energy-related research, where he has conducted research twice before and will return this summer to begin a year-long residence.
His connection to ORNL is through ACM’s affiliation with the Oak Ridge Science Semester (ORSS), which gives ACM students a rare chance to receive full academic credit while working as part of a team of scientists doing cutting-edge research. Faculty from ACM colleges can apply to serve as the program’s resident director, giving them opportunities to conduct research there, as well.
Teague was first tapped to be the ORSS Resident Director in fall 2009, and he stayed on at ORNL for a spring semester sabbatical doing basic research with the Nanomaterials Chemistry Group on ways to capture carbon dioxide produced during manufacturing and other industrial processes before it escapes into the atmosphere.
When he returned to Cornell, Teague began to incorporate his work on carbon dioxide capture into his teaching and student-faculty research activities.
He also kept in touch with his research group at the laboratory and returned in summer 2014, along with Cornell student Ben Williamson, with funding from the Department of Energy. The two of them co-authored a research paper on their work at Oak Ridge which was published in a scholarly journal.
“That was a wonderful experience for Ben, and really opened his eyes to different things to do in graduate school,” Teague said. “Now he’s in a Ph.D. program and is doing well.”
A few weeks from now, Teague will head back to Oak Ridge, this time for a full year. He will start off with another grant-funded summer at the lab, accompanied by two Cornell students, and rejoin his laboratory colleagues investigating carbon dioxide capture.
Craig Teague with students in the fall 2009 Oak Ridge Science Semester.
As ORSS Resident Director during the fall semester, he will teach an advanced course for program participants and lead the academic component of the program’s interdisciplinary seminar. Teague will complete his residence at ORNL with a spring semester sabbatical, once again immersed in research.
Over the years, Teague noted, working at ORNL has provided a valuable “big picture” perspective. “I’m able to talk in a general sense about the lay of the scientific landscape,” he said, “and that comes up in courses, with my research students, and even when I talk with prospective students.”
“It’s really fundamental research,” Teague said, “and I talk about that in my classes, especially upper-level classes as we start to read journal articles and ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ I can’t say whether what I’m working on [in carbon dioxide capture] will ever be commercialized, but we need to understand how atoms and molecules work in these systems, and that’s the focus of my study.”