LOGAN, UTAH - Lisa Berreau, born and raised in Brewster, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for her research as professor at Utah State University (USU).
She was awarded for her research in the field of inorganic chemistry. Her work investigates the role metal ions play in human health, the environment and catalysis. Berreau said her research was primarily based in what might be useful for new fuels from biological sources.
“For example, when you break down things like corn to produce fuel, you need catalysts - metal structures that help feed up reactions,” Berreau said. “So we study how we can do that - how we can break apart molecules by using oxygen and certain metals.”
Berreau attended Brewster High School and spent her senior year at Sioux Valley-Round Lake-Brewster, graduating in 1986. She cited her chemistry teacher, Craig Kroger, for igniting her interest in the field. She went on to Mankato State University - now known as Minnesota State University, Mankato - where she earned her bachelor’s degree.
“I first thought I was going to be an engineer, but when I started taking chemistry classes I found out it's something I really loved because it’s basically a bunch of problem solving,” Berreau said. “I find doing that every day in my research, and also teaching it is a lot of fun.”
She completed a doctorate from Iowa State University in 1994. She spent the next four years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota. In 1998, she joined USU as an assistant professor. She now serves as a full professor and executive associate dean of USU’s College of Science.
Berreau said the award wasn’t possible without help from her students and mentors in the field.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Berreau said. “For me, it's a reflection of all the wonderful people I've had the opportunity to work with who have helped me along the way. Research is about learning new things - you do that not as an individual, but as teams. I have students who have done so much to help.”
A huge Vikings fan, Berreau used football as an analogy for the process of scientific research.
“Sometimes when you’re coaching a team, you see another team doing something innovative - maybe they play defense slightly differently - and you think, I would like to try that, but tweak it in some way,” Berreau said. “That's what scientific research is like. We look at what’s already been done, we look at what’s important and we think, ‘how might we improve things?’”
Improvements such as making things cheaper, more efficient or more environmentally friendly come gradually because scientists are always building off what is already known.
Berreau said she hoped becoming a fellow would help inspire a future wave of scientists.
“I have a lot of students work with me, including a lot of female students,” Berreau said. “I think it’s important, especially for women, to realize the opportunities there are in science. I hope me being chosen as a fellow can be an inspiration, especially to young scientists thinking this might be something for them.”
Being from a small town, Berreau also hoped to encourage rural students to take up science.
“When you come out of a more rural place and get to the next level, let’s say a university, you realize there’s all these people around you who went to huge high schools in big cities,” Berreau said. “No matter where you’re from - I'm from a town of 500 people - there are tremendous opportunities, and science is an amazing career. I get to travel around the country and the world talking about our research.”
Speaking of travel, Berreau was in Worthington over the weekend for an early Thanksgiving with family.
“It was an enjoyable visit other than that snowstorm on Friday,” she said.
Next up, she’ll be headed to Boston on Feb. 18 for the AAAS Fellows formal award ceremony, where she will be honored for her research.