ASU materials science professor selected for ACerS Distinguished Life Membership Award

Alexandra Navrotsky's many honors motivate her to focus on the future

May 6, 2020

Most people would consider 50 years a remarkably full career and an appropriate time to retire. Most people are not Alexandra Navrotsky.

Navrotsky is a “new” professor for both the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University. Although it may be more accurate to refer to her as returning faculty, since she began her work as an assistant professor at ASU in 1969. headshot of ASU professor Alexandra Navrotsky Alexandra Navrotsky Download Full Image

During the subsequent decades, she has received a vast array of significant awards for her efforts at ASU, at Princeton and at the University of California, Davis. And the most recent examples of her many honors are typical of those bestowed on exemplary senior science researchers.

In March, for example, Navrotsky was celebrated by the European Materials Research Society as the 2020 Jan Czochralski Award winner for eminent achievements in the field of materials science. She also recently had a mineral named after her in recognition of significant contributions to the field of thermochemistry. Navrotskyite is a rare, beautiful crystalline complex of alkali uranium sulfate discovered at a mine in San Juan County, Utah.

Navrotsky now is being awarded a 2020 Distinguished Life Membership by the American Ceramic Society. It is the highest honor accorded by the professional organization in recognition of significant contributions to advancing ceramic and glass science.

“I jumped for joy,” Navrotsky said about the moment she learned of her selection. “The news arrived alongside that of several other honors, so it was just amazing.”

Navrotsky’s colleagues are equally pleased about her selection.

“This ACerS award is well-deserved since Dr. Navrotsky has been truly instrumental in understanding and optimizing the microscopic structure and macroscopic thermodynamic behavior in minerals, ceramics and complex materials,” said Lenore Dai, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the six Fulton Schools.

Most exciting for Navrotsky is that her work continues to support the vanguard of her field. The Distinguished Life Membership award she has secured will be presented during the annual Materials Science and Technology Conference in Pittsburgh this coming October. At the same event, she will be presenting one of the best new papers acknowledged this year by the American Ceramic Society.

“It’s always a great feeling to be recognized for your current research,” Navrotsky said. “In this case, we obtained a set of thermodynamic measurements looking at glass exposed to a range of conditions. We proved that a previous generation of researchers were correct in their measurements, even though they had far less-accurate tools and techniques to apply compared to now. It’s nice because it shows that good work stands the test of time.”

Navrotsky’s enthusiasm for good work has been a consistent aspect of her entire career. She fondly recalls her first role, five decades ago, as an assistant professor of chemistry at ASU.

“It was a tremendously exciting time to be here. The university was growing, and fields like electron microscopy were just getting started,” she said. “We had a wonderful group of young people working with senior scientists who were deeply interested in solid state research. I really had no idea how helpful that first job was going to be in propelling me forward in ceramics and so much more. It was just great.”

Navrotsky is equally excited about the opportunities presented by her return to ASU this past October to open the Center for Materials of the Universe, a collaborative research and education initiative of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, the School of Molecular Sciences and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

“We are at a historic moment, where advanced research tools in the laboratory, computation, remote sensing and space exploration are leading to paradigm shifts in understanding the universe and in creating new complex materials and technologies,” she said.

Additionally, the new Center for Materials of the Universe synergistically unites multiple fields of science and engineering to lead these new discoveries and address significant technological challenges.

“ASU is uniquely poised to pursue this effort because of a long and successful history of collaboration of astronomers, geoscientists, chemists, physicists, materials scientists and engineers,” Navrotsky said. “I am excited and energized to have helped develop the ideas that culminated in this center and now to lead it.”

Gary Werner

Senior Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Exploring psychology and finding community: Graduate reflects on experiences at ASU

May 6, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Nneoma Njoku’s interest in human nature was born when she was young after watching the movie, “A Beautiful Mind.” Nneoma Njoku Nneoma Njoku graduates with her degree in psychology this May from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

An avid reader, she said she began researching the human mind and why humans act the way that they do. It wasn’t until years later when she discussed her interest with her mom that she decided to pursue it as a degree.

“‘Why do we do what we do?’ That question was probably in my search bar for like three years straight,” Njoku said. “I told my mom that I'm always looking that up and she said, ‘That sounds like psychology, you might want to study that in college.’”

Njoku’s family moved to Arizona from Georgia while she was in high school. She said she chose Arizona State University to stay close to her parents and because of the quality education available at the Department of Psychology in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Njoku said she experienced culture shock coming from a predominantly black community to ASU.

“At first I wasn't comfortable not seeing black people wherever I was,” she said.

But after talking with classmates, Njoku said she built a support system of connections and took classes with the same students time and again.

“What it taught me was to put myself out there and get out of my comfort zone — and outside of your comfort zone, it's still fun,” she said.

Question: Did your experience match your expectations of psychology as a major?

Answer: Oh, for sure. I learned everything that I could possibly learn. I've taken any psych class that I was interested in. My favorite course was abnormal psych with Dr. C (Carolyn Cavanaugh Toft). It was everything that you wanted to know about disorders and things like that, and she was a really great teacher to have for that class.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges coming to or while attending ASU? If so, how have you overcome them?

A: I'm almost 100% independent. A lot of my challenges were juggling school and work and time management. At first it was really hard for me to make enough money and have enough hours where I could still do my homework and have money in my account. But I got it down by the second semester of my sophomore year; I worked Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays and then I would spend the rest of my Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the library and Tuesdays and Thursdays I would use to rest after class. The library is my favorite place, so this COVID-19 thing is kind of messing with my vibe.

Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?

A: My best memory was my freshman year, the Black African Coalition threw a pool party and that was the most fun I've had at ASU since so many of us didn't know each other. We all knew enough about each other because it was the end of freshman year, but we'd never really had a conversation. We were all in the same place, partying at the same time and it was just so fun to know that there's so many people from so many different places all here at once. It felt like a real college experience.

Q: Which clubs and organizations were you involved in and how did they shape your experience?

A: I am a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, and I’m the chaplain of my chapter. At meetings I read the Bible, reflect and do the meditation. I'm also the president of the National Panhellenic Council, which is the council that all of the organizations and the Divine Nine are under. The Divine Nine is the nine historically African American sororities and fraternities that we have in the U.S. These experiences taught me to delegate, delegate, delegate. You can't do everything by yourself, it becomes overwhelming.

Q: Were there any other opportunities you took part in while at the college, like research or internships and if so, how did that impact your experience?

A: When I went to the psychology internship fair, I met this lovely lady, her name was Andrea and she was the representative for Future for KIDS, a program where you volunteer to mentor children at schools and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. But I considered the experience a psychology internship because I spent the whole year there with the kids, and at the same time I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my psychology degree.

I'm a big foster care advocate and really want reform for foster homes. I was like, “OK, well maybe I'll start by opening my own and leading by example and mine won't have half as many as those problems and all these foster homes have.” I thought that was a really good idea. But then I did Future for KIDS for a year and was with troubled youth — those kids loved me and I loved them — but I was so happy to get in my car and go home after an hour. And I thought “If I own a foster home, I'm there from sunup to sundown, then I can go home. I don't know if that's for me.” Doing those kinds of things lets you explore what you think you're going to do with your life before you go too far into it.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Carolyn Cavanaugh taught me compassion. From the moment we started the Early Start program she was just such a loving professor. I could walk into her office today and she would still greet me with open arms and love. You know how some will have a connection with their high school teachers? That's how it feels. It feels like she's a friend.

Q: You came to The College early your freshman year through Early Start, what was that experience like?

A: Every friend I had at ASU, I met at Early Start. I met other people along the way, but I'm closest to the people I met early. I walked straight up to my best friend after all the parents went home and introduced myself. We walked together to the first activity and we've been together ever since. We were all so ready to start school and ready to meet people that we were so nice to each other during early start and we've all been friends since.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Do the extra credit, the points add up. Also, go to class please. You paid for it. Go to it.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to Georgia State University to become a physician assistant. I feel like I've learned everything that I need to learn about psychology; my thirst has been quenched. I want to be in a career that I know right off the bat I'll come out at least making $80,000, can donate to foster homes, be a volunteer and have that passion and have money behind it.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences