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UGA chemistry graduate awarded Merck Fellowship

Robert J. Gilliard Jr.

Athens, Ga. – Robert J. Gilliard Jr., a 2014 doctoral graduate of the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of chemistry, has been awarded a UNCF/Merck Foundation Postdoctoral Science Research Fellowship. The award provides $92,000 and includes a stipend, research grant and travel funds for up to two years of fellowship tenure.

Gilliard will pursue research projects focused on synthetic chemistry and will collaborate with John Protasiewicz of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and Hansjörg Grützmacher of ETH Zürich—an engineering, science, technology, mathematics and management university in Zürich, Switzerland. Gilliard will depart for Zürich in August.

“This is a tremendous honor for which I am extremely grateful,” said Gilliard, a native of Hartsville, South Carolina, who came to UGA in 2009 to work with Gregory H. Robinson, the Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. “My experience at UGA has been highly rewarding in research as well as teaching, and I’m looking forward to these new opportunities for collaboration.”

Gilliard’s research at UGA has focused on beryllium chemistry, a highly toxic element that has historically presented a number of challenges. After working with professor Rhett C. Smith and graduating from Clemson University, he decided to continue with organometallic chemistry, the chemistry of compounds that contain a metal-carbon bond.

“I searched all the programs and people in the Southeast to find the best faculty member to work with and came to UGA to work with Greg Robinson,” Gilliard said.

“The Merck Postdoctoral Fellowship is a prestigious honor,” Robinson said, “not just for Robert but also for the department of chemistry and the University of Georgia. Robert arrived at UGA with a clear career plan, and he has worked hard to realize his ambition, forging new directions in the synthetic organic chemistry of beryllium.”

Gilliard received the Outstanding Teaching Award from the UGA Graduate School in 2011 and 2012 and was awarded the Outstanding Teaching Award and the K.W. Whitten Award in the department of chemistry in 2010. In 2013, he received the Martin Reynolds Smith Prize for best chemical research publication and was one of a select group of young American scientists chosen to attend the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, a global forum “to educate, inspire and connect the world’s international best talents.”

“We met 37 Nobel laureates, heads of state, members of the selection committee as well as American and German government officials,” Gilliard said of the Nobel meeting. “It was an amazing experience to be a part of the U.S. delegation.”

Gilliard appreciated his time at UGA, he said. “One cannot practice chemistry alone, and the team here at UGA—from the very sharp undergraduates working in our labs to our great faculty—everyone has been instrumental in my success. Greg Robinson, Fritz Schaefer and Paul Schleyer are among the top chemists in the world, right here on campus, and it has been an incredible honor learning from the best.”

UNCF/Merck Postdoctoral Science Research Fellowships are a component of the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative to support the training and development of world-class African-American biomedical research scientists. For more information, see