A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 14, 2009 Volume 39 / Number 6


Outstanding Faculty Awards 2008–2009

David Ball Outstanding Research Mentor

David Ball

David Ball is the first to receive the Outstanding Research Mentor Award. Ball has been directing students in research activities since shortly after his arrival in the Department of Chemistry in 1974. Since that time, he has mentored more than 50 students who have worked with him in his laboratory.

“While that number far surpasses what other chemistry faculty have accomplished in this time period,” said colleague and friend Donald Alger, “the details of these activities are even more impressive.” Alger went on to describe Ball’s remarkable currency in his specialty of organic synthesis, his key role in acquiring a modern nuclear magnetic resonance instrument for the department, an essential and expensive piece of equipment for chemistry research, and his pursuit of funds for a summer research institute.

Roche Bioscience, a leading pharmaceutical company, provided the first grant of $25,000 in 1999, and four students were selected to receive $2,500 stipends. Dr. Ball mentored two of those students. One of his former research students had become a vice president of Roche Bioscience and believed that other students could benefit, related Alger.

Roche Bioscience has continued to fund the institute for up to 12 students. “While Dr. Ball has personally mentored at least 15 of these students, he is indirectly responsible for the opportunities of many students mentored by other faculty because of his leadership in the establishment of what is now known as the Chemistry Summer Research Institute.

A former student, Randy Vivian, wrote in his letter of nomination about Ball’s “passion for the science of organic chemistry, his professionalism as a lecturer and laboratory instructor, and his ability to help talented students realize their potential for becoming professional scientists.” After graduating from CSU, Chico, Vivian went on to receive his PhD from UC Santa Barbara, and to attend Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow in the research lab of Nobel Laureate Dr. E.J. Corey. Vivian is currently a research scientist with Gilead Scientific in Foster City, Calif.

An important way in which Ball has stayed current in his research during his teaching career is by working at labs outside of the CSU system during many summers. As a student, Vivian said that he worked alongside Ball twice, once at UC Santa Cruz, and then as a first-year graduate at UC Santa Barbara. “Professor Ball was usually one of the first ‘students’ to be in lab in the morning. He is a highly skilled chemist and has been recognized as such by being included as an author on several peer-reviewed publications from these laboratories. While he performs his own research, he serves as a mentor and educator within the laboratory for other students as well. The experiences of a chemist become his greatest assets over the course of a career, and Professor Ball’s ability and willingness to share those experiences with students to further their education is truly impressive.”

A large number of Ball’s students have gone on to graduate studies in chemistry, with many of them receiving PhDs. “Their undergraduate research experiences at Chico State jump-started their successful graduate careers,” wrote Ball. As an example of the kind of success his students have enjoyed, Ball listed Ben Taft, a co-researcher with Ball. Taft finished his graduate career at UC Santa Barbara in December 2008, and went on to a post-doctoral position at Stanford University. Taft has more than 12 peer-reviewed publications and received a prestigious American Chemical Society Organic Division Fellowship, said Ball.

In addition to the Outstanding Research Mentor award, Ball was granted a sabbatical leave in 2007 and received a Professional Achievement Honor from CSU, Chico in 2005. He received a grant from the National Science Foundation for the high field NMR in 1999, a CSU Research Award in 1998, a NSF-Research Opportunity Award in 1997-98, and was a Summer Research Fellow at UC Santa Cruz in 1996.  He received several other research awards and merit awards earlier in his career.

“Professor David Ball has made a career of helping students achieve all they can as chemists and scientists,” said Vivian. “His career should be recognized as the standard to which future candidates for this award should be held.”

Kathleen McPartland, Public Affairs and Publications