Patricia Zhang Musacchio, assistant professor of chemistry, has been named to the Leonard P. Kinnicutt Professorship for a three-year appointment. Jean King, WPI’s Peterson Family Dean of Arts & Sciences, made the announcement at the university’s Arts & Sciences Advisory Board Meeting on Friday October 7.

“Professor Musacchio is innovative and creative in her approach to chemistry research and committed to purpose-driven research and teaching—just the kind of faculty member George C. Gordon intended to see in the endowed chair that bears Professor Kinnicutt’s name,” King says. “Professor Musacchio exemplifies the WPI value of seeking to make a positive difference in the world with her knowledge and expertise.”

Established by George C. Gordon to honor Leonard P. Kinnicutt, the Kinnicutt Professorship encourages the professional development of aspiring new faculty, with a preference for those who study chemistry. A member of the WPI faculty since 2019, Musacchio focuses her research on developing new chemical technologies for the design and synthesis of drug molecules, chemotherapeutics, and biologics. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded $1,836,375 to Musacchio to develop a process that would help medicinal chemists synthesize new drugs by transforming a common chemical bond in small molecules. She will use energy from visible light to break the strong bond that forms in molecules between carbon and hydrogen. Her process would give medicinal chemists a new, green way to customize the structure of small molecules to target disease in the body. This five-year project is funded by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Science and builds on Musacchio’s previous experience in photochemistry and catalysis.

“Professor Musacchio’s work is truly leading edge, and it’s a pleasure to recognize and reward her in this meaningful way,” says Anita Elaine Mattson, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and interim department head.

The Kinnicutt Professorship dates to 1964, when WPI received a $5 million bequest from George C. Gordon, Class of 1895. Most of the funds were used to build WPI’s Gordon Library, but a portion also endowed this professorship. It’s named for Leonard P. Kinnicutt, the professor who Gordon credited with most influencing his life.

A member of WPI’s civil engineering faculty from 1882 to 1911, Kinnicutt was the first WPI professor to hold a doctorate and the first Worcester native to join the faculty. An expert in sanitary chemistry, his research and consulting work was known worldwide. At WPI, Kinnicutt managed an unofficial financial aid program, helping many students with out-of-pocket loans. Gordon, who credited Kinnicutt with encouraging him to complete his WPI education, spent five years at Wyman-Gordon Co. in Worcester before joining the Park Drop Forge Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, where he eventually became chairman.

“Generations of alumni have stories professors who gave them the encouragement they needed to finish a challenging term, the confidence they needed to go after an ambitious goal, even the extra odd job at just the right time,” King says. “WPI is known for its caring community and Professor Musacchio has been a wonderful addition to it.”