Alumnus Research Aims to Improve Environment

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences selects Carl Hoff to receive Alumni Award
Carl Hoff

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes the achievements of outstanding alumni with an awards celebration. The UMKC School of Biological and Chemical Sciences is honoring Carl D. Hoff (Ph.D. ’77) with its Class of 2020 Alumni Achievement Award.

Carl Hoff
Carl D. Hoff (Ph.D. ’77)

Hoff has spent his career energizing students on the subject of chemistry. He’s recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a better way to convert atmospheric nitrogen from a gas into ammonium nitrate – a critical ingredient in the production of fertilizer – that will eliminate toxic by-products, which would have a major impact on the environment.

A past recipient of the University of Miami’s Excellence in Teaching Award, scientist Carl Hoff is beloved by students for his innovative and experiential classroom techniques. Hoff has been teaching chemistry for nearly 40 years. While he has a passion for the subject, he understands that it can be a challenging subject for students.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I had an advisor who said he could see it in his students’ eyes when they had lost interest. But the opposite is also true. You can see their eyes lift as well. In a difficult problem, sometimes you can see that light of understanding where something real was achieved.

How do you make course material engaging for students?

No one can take 50 minutes of chemistry. I learned a lot from educators at UMKC. Eckhard Hellmuth once brought in a box of assorted rubber tubing of different colors and lengths. He would reach in and grab a handful and throw it in the air, and then have the class look at it. He would repeat this several times. Each time was different, but somehow the same. It was about statistical mechanics of polymer strands. It was simple. It cost little. I try to do that at the middle of a lecture when students need a break.

You’ve received more than $2.5 million in grant funding for your work. What is the focus and goal of your grant from the U.S. Department of Energy?

We are looking for a better way to make ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in fertilizer. The most common method developed by Fritz Haber can lead to a toxic by product that can cause algal blooms and other bad effects when misused. We’re trying to take the waste and convert it into more fertilizer, which will save a lot of money and energy and create a cleaner environment.

How did UMKC prepare you for success?

UMKC had the advantage of being a small university, where there was close student-faculty contact that wasn’t formalized or mandated.

What’s your favorite UMKC memory?

I always liked reading the saying on the old Swinney Gymnasium: “Run hard, leap high, throw strongly and endure.”

About the Alumni Awards

Join us in honoring Hoff and the other Class of 2020 Awardees in our first-ever virtual celebration at 5 p.m. April 16. Go to to register for this free event. If you are unable to attend the event but would like to donate to student scholarships, contributions can be made online.

Meet the rest of the 2020 UMKC Alumni Awardees

Learn more about School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Published: Mar 24, 2021

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