Dr. Rick Dorn wins Zaffarano Prize for Graduate Student Research

May 30, 2023 - by Sarah Igram

Dr. Rick Dorn, recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Chemistry, is the winner of the 2023 Zaffarano Prize for Publishable Research. The prize, established by former Graduate College dean Daniel Zaffarano 1988, honors students with superior publishable research, as Zaffarano believed publishing was a vital part of the graduate experience.

Rick Dorn


Dorn, who published 12 first-author articles in academic journals during his time at Iowa State, agrees with Zaffarano’s philosophy and takes great pride in publishing scientific research.

“It is important to convey your results into a comprehendible story that is easy to read. When choosing how to tell this story, you first need to think about the audience you are targeting,” Dorn said. “For publishing a paper, you decide the audience based on who you think would benefit the most from your research.”

Dorn first came to Iowa State to work with chemistry associate professor Aaron Rossini. As a researcher in Rossini’s lab, he used an analytical characterization technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to determine the chemical structures of materials.

“NMR utilizes the principle that individual atoms behave like very small bar magnets. When placed inside a very large magnetic field, the atoms interact with the magnetic field and precess,” Dorn said. “We can manipulate the atoms with radio frequency waves and detect the frequency of precession with atomic-level accuracy.”

Throughout his doctoral studies, Dorn used NMR to study a variety of materials and worked on the development of novel NMR experiments to better enable the characterization of challenging materials.

“A comprehensive understanding of chemical structure is crucial to enable the design and development of next-generation materials,” he said. “NMR spectroscopy is a critical tool used throughout academia and industry to determine structure, purity, and kinetics.”

To publish research, Dorn spent a great deal of time reading previous literature to make sure he understood what had already been published and what was still missing or not known. Now that he has extensively published his own work, he finds it rewarding to see his articles start to receive citations.

“This is confirmation that your research is important, and you are truly helping society make technological advancements,” he said.

Since earning his Ph.D., Dorn has taken a job as a senior chemist at Boston Scientific, where he uses NMR to better understand aspects of the materials in medical devices. He also works with teams to develop new implantable medical devices.

Rossini, who served as Dorn’s major professor at Iowa State, nominated him for this year’s Zaffarano Prize, praising his independence, drive to succeed, creativity, and intelligence.

“It is really an honor to be awarded the Zaffarano Prize. It means a lot to me to be awarded a prize dedicated to research excellence,” he said. “However, research is not an individual effort, but a team effort. I am very fortunate to have worked with so many excellent individuals throughout my Ph.D., and I would really like to thank everyone I have worked with because without them, I could not have achieved this wonderful prize.

Tags: academic awards, zaffarano prize, chemistry