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Paul Cheong with Sastry Pantula in lobby

Cheong named Bert & Emelyn Christensen Professor of Chemistry

By Debbie Farris

Paul Ha-Yeon Cheong, professor in chemistry

Paul Ha-Yeon Cheong has been named the inaugural Bert & Emelyn Christensen Professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science. He joined OSU’s College of Science in 2009 as an associate professor.

The Bert and Emelyn Christensen Professorship was established to provide faculty support in the Department of Chemistry and will help retain talented faculty in organic chemistry.

Gerald ('57) and Robert ('61) Christensen, together with their sister Joyce Harris Christensen and their spouses, created the endowed professorship to honor their parents, Bert and Emelyn. Bert Christensen joined the chemistry faculty in 1931 and spent the next 40 years at OSU, serving as department head from 1956-70. An organic chemist, he focused on the building blocks of nucleic acids and conducted early work on anti-malarial drugs and radioactive isotopes.

His wife of 59 years, Emelyn was a gifted writer and photographer and actively involved in the community with decades of civic engagement and leadership.

Widely recognized as one of the leading young researchers in computational organic chemistry, Cheong’s research has led to groundbreaking discoveries in how reaction mechanisms work. He focuses on better understanding complex reaction mechanisms, particularly in asymmetric catalysis.

“We are deeply grateful to the Christensen family and friends for their generous support to help retain the best and brightest scientists at Oregon State,” said Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the College of Science. “With their philanthropic vision to honor their parents, the Christensen family serves as role models to us all.

“Paul Cheong is an outstanding chemist and very deserving of this honor and support at this critical juncture in his career. Paul and OSU have a bright future ahead.”

Cheong is driven by a passion to solve scientific mysteries by discovering and explaining fundamental and practical principles through their underlying chemistry and nature. He and his research team apply state-of-the-art computational chemistry techniques and tools to a wide array of chemical mysteries.

“The Christensen Professorship will enable me to create opportunities for my students with the research laboratories that I collaborate with around the world,” said Cheong. “Opportunities like that made a profound difference to me as an undergraduate. I want to ‘pay it forward’ and give future generations of scientists those type of life-changing experiences.”

In 2014, Cheong received the Emerging Scholar Award from Phi Kappa Phi and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, NSF’s most prestigious award. This award is given to junior faculty members for outstanding and innovative research and the effective application of that research in university teaching and education. He was selected to represent the American Chemical Society (ACS) at the 2014 European Young Investigators Symposium.

A native of Korea, Cheong earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Bowdoin College and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles and did his postdoctoral studies before joining OSU.