Dr. Robert E. Belford, associate professor of chemistry at UALR, has received a $200,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop an intercollegiate course in cheminformatics – the modeling of chemical and related biological information on computers.
Belford, chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of Chemical Education Committee on Computers in Chemical Education, will work in collaboration with Dr. David J. Wild, director of the Indiana University Cheminformatics Program, to pioneer the use of the Semantic Web and Distance Education.
The goal will be to bring high-impact education on practical informatics and cheminformatics techniques to chemistry undergraduates in a wide range of universities and smaller colleges. Their team will include a variety of experts in cheminformatics, chemical education, and information sciences. The intercollegiate course will be hosted by ACS CCCE.
UALR is the lead institution for the collaborative project.
“Advances in cheminformatics over the past couple decades have been so rapid that the traditional undergraduate curriculum has not kept up,” Belford said. “It will be a significant competitive asset for our students to be cognizant of these new technologies when they graduate.”
The goal of the grant is two-fold – to bring faculty up to par with recent advances and to provide students with these skills.
“For students to graduate with the skills they need to excel as chemists they not only need to know the foundations and lab skills central to the science, but they also need to know how to communicate the results of their work, how to acquire and review the results of others’ work, and increasingly how to use computational and informatics techniques as part of their scientific discovery process,” Belford said.
According to Belford, this is more than just moving scientific communications beyond the traditional Gutenberg-era printed document.
“Sure social and semantic technologies are impacting the scientific discovery process by changing how scientists share and communicate information, but there is another aspect of cheminformatics which could be changing the very nature of how we solve problems,” he said. “That is, cheminformatic advances are changing the nature of the cognitive artifacts we use to represent and manipulate information, which in turn has the potential to enable the development of new schema for problem solving that could have a profound impact on the practice of science.”
Belford joined the UALR faculty in 2002 from the University of West Virginia where he was a visiting assistant professor of chemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Arizona State University.