Jakoah Brgoch Wins 2020 NSM Junior Faculty Award

Brgoch Recognized for His Outstanding Research

The University of Houston’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics awards faculty at the rank of assistant professor the NSM Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research every year.

Jakoah Brgoch
Jakoah Brgoch, associate professor of chemistry, is the recipient of NSM’s 2020 Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research.

The award was created in 2015 to recognize faculty for their great potential in research and scholarship as shown by the exceptional quality of their contributions.

Jakoah Brgoch, who is now associate professor of chemistry, was nominated by his peers in the college to receive the 2020 award, along with a $5,000 check and plaque.

David Hoffman, chemistry department chair and professor of chemistry, wrote in his nominating letter that Brgoch “is a productive, innovative scientist who has generated exciting research results that have led to numerous high-profile publications and extensive external research funding.”

Brgoch said he is honored to be recognized by his peers for his work.

“It’s amazing to join the ranks of many of my colleagues in our department who have also won the award,” he said. “It’s nice validation to know that what you’re doing is recognized by the college and you’re making an impact outside of your research group and your department.”

Brgoch has won numerous external awards, including a 2018 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and is a 2020 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in Chemistry. He has published 54 peer-reviewed publications in high-impact journals like Nature Communications and the Journal of the American Chemical Society and garnered more than $1.9 million in external research funding.

He and his research group develop functional inorganic materials. They synthesize new compounds for application, whether that is for energy-efficient LED-based lighting or for superhard materials used in saw blades or drill bits. The group uses a combination of computational modeling to better understand the properties of materials as well as machine learning to predict novel properties or the existence of entirely new compounds.

“I love understanding new materials and the origin of their physical properties, but I also really like to work with the graduate students on research,” Brgoch said. “Being in the lab and figuring out whether what we’re measuring confirms our predictions or not, is exciting. Sometimes, the ‘or not’ part is extremely frustrating, but once you figure it out, there’s significant reward to answering questions you really never thought you would understand.”

A Focus on His Students

The application process for junior faculty award includes the submission of three letters of recommendation from respected individuals outside UH and in the nominee’s field.

One recommender from the University of California, Los Angeles, writes that Brgoch’s productivity as an early career faculty member is “well beyond that of most of his peers at a similar career stage, and together with the impact of his work, clearly demonstrate his potential for continued research excellence.”

Another recommender, from the University of California, Davis writes that Brgoch’s strong theoretical background in combination with experimental techniques allows him to “quickly employ new approaches and his work has expanded the field.”

Brgoch has had tremendous impact on a variety of students as well, especially through mentoring. He collaborates with Houston Community College to sponsor two students to work with him in his labs every summer to learn about LED materials. He has mentored numerous undergraduates at UH as well, for which he was awarded the 2019 Undergraduate Research Mentor Award by the University.

Brgoch also works with younger students. He has mentored high school students through the American Chemical Society-Greater Houston Section’s SEED program and has organized workshops on applying data science to materials chemistry that brought students from across the country to participate in live coding sessions at UH.

As Brgoch looks to the future and thinks about his research goals, he points back to the fact that he wants his students to be well-trained.

“My main goal at the end of every school year is to make sure I’m producing graduate students that not only get jobs but are actively recruited,” he said.

"Really the product of my time at UH will be the quality of student that I taught. My goal is to make sure my students are independent, capable researchers who are well-spoken in terms of their scientific acumen; I try to make sure they are the complete package of a graduate student.”

- Rebeca Trejo, College of Natural Science and Mathematics