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  • Lee Penn

    Lee Penn appointed Merck II Professor of Chemistry

R. Lee Penn has been appointed the Merck II Professor of Chemistry for a five-year term starting, July 1, 2017. This is one of several departmental professorships that recognize and reward the Department of Chemistry's most distinguished faculty. Penn has an outstanding record of research accomplishments and service to the department, College of Science & Engineering (CSE), and University of Minnesota.


Penn’s interdisciplinary research focuses on nanoparticles and, in particular, their mechanisms of growth and dissolution, and the environmental implications of those phenomena. This research work has been published in a range of scientific journals, including the Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Green Chemistry, Geochemical Transactions, Journal of Crystal Growth, Environmental Science & Technology, ACS Nano, and Nature Materials

The research is highly collaborative. In 2016 alone, Penn co-authored papers with Laura Gagliardi, Christy Haynes, Connie Lu and Andreas Stein and Connie Lu in chemistry, Eray Aydil and Michael Tsapatsis in Chemical Engineering & Materials Science, Bill Arnold in Civil, Environmental and Geo-engineering, and Joshua Feinberg in Earth Sciences.


Penn is an exceptional teacher. A member of the University’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers, major teaching accolades include the CSE’s George Taylor Award for Teaching, and the University’s Morse-Alumni Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. 

Service & Outreach

Service to the scientific community and outreach to underrepresented groups in the sciences are priorities for Professor Penn. At the national level, this includes serving as Program Chair and Division Chair of the ACS Geochemistry Division. For the department, Penn serves as founding chair of the chemistry’s Diversity Committee, and on the Space Committee, Graduate Curriculum Committee, Tenure Committee, Fellowship Committee, and Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) Fellowships Committee. Penn serves on the Electron Microscopy Management Committee, working to ensure the quality training for and best use of the college’s transmission electron microscopy facilities.

Outreach activities include Penn’s Microscopy Camp, the Women in Science & Engineering’s Cool Chemistry program, and the college’s Energy & U program.


Penn is an active and committed advocate for marginalized communities. In addition to leading the Diversity Committee, this advocacy includes organizing and leading Ally Training Workshops, serving as adviser to the UMN Chapter of National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChe), serving as informal adviser and mentor to the Out in Science and Engineering (o-STEM) student group, and mentoring several gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) identified students studying science, technology, engineering and math through the University’s Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life year-long mentoring program.

This work has garnered a Community Excellence Award from the University of Minnesota’s Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life, Charlotte Striebel Equity Award from the University Office for Equity and Diversity’s Women’s Center, and the Breaking the Silence Award from the University of Minnesota's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally Programs Office.

About Professor Penn

Professor Penn joined the Department of Chemistry faculty as an assistant professor in 2001, was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2008, and to full professor in May 2015. Penn earned a bachelor degree in chemistry from Beloit College in 1992, and master’s degree in 1994 and doctorate in 1998 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before coming to the University of Minnesota, Penn was an adjunct faculty member at Towson University, and a post-doctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University. Penn is an ACS Fellow.

Professor Penn is one of two Merck professors in the Department of Chemistry: Professor Stein is the other Merck professor.