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The Cycle of Mentorship

A new student travel fund pays tribute to a chemistry professor who changed lives


A photo of two people sitting outside on a bench.

The late Robert Dunbar and his wife, Mary, enjoyed walks through the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Above, their son, Geoff, and Mary sit on a bench at the center that honors Robert’s memory. | Photo courtesy of Geoff Dunbar

Peter Armentrout has traveled to conferences throughout his career, exploring innovations in physical chemistry and forming lasting bonds with mentors and colleagues. 

Now, he wants to provide similar opportunities to students while paying tribute to the late Robert Dunbar, PhD, a Case Western Reserve professor who changed his professional path. 

Armentrout, PhD (CIT ’75), an award-winning researcher and professor, committed $100,000 to establish the Dunbar/Armentrout Chemistry Travel Fellowship at the College of Arts and Sciences after discussions with faculty leaders about the need for such funding. That tribute to his friend inspired Dunbar’s widow, Mary Dunbar (MGT ’85), to also commit $100,000 to the endowed fund.

The fund is designed to help graduate chemistry students attend professional conferences and workshops. 

Dunbar came to CWRU in 1970 after completing his PhD in physical chemistry at Stanford University. He quickly distinguished himself, earning prestigious fellowships and awards, and remained on the faculty his entire 42-year career. 

Armentrout joined Dunbar’s research group in 1974 as an undergraduate and became fascinated with the study of ions (charged particles) and their reactions—the applications for which are numerous, from assessing the nutritional content of food to helping forensic scientists identify and analyze unknown substances. 

“Rob was one of the pioneers of ion spectroscopy—how light interacts with ions—and my time in his group laid the foundation for my understanding of physical chemistry,” said Armentrout, the Henry Eyring Presidential Endowed Chair of Chemistry at the University of Utah and 2004 recipient of the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry. “The camaraderie of the group was very special, and I got to see firsthand how rewarding it can be to work with students.” 

Group photo of men with bicycles with a large hill and body of water behind them.

From left: Robert Dunbar, Peter Armentrout, and others on a 17-mile bike ride at Asilomar State Beach in California following an American Society for Mass Spectrometry conference held nearby in 2009. | Photo courtesy of Peter Armentrout

Dunbar and Armentrout stayed in touch, and their mentor/mentee relationship grew into a true friendship. They shared a love of cycling and rode together between sessions during chemistry conferences in various cities.
“Those kinds of relationships are really important,” Armentrout said, “and I hope students [who receive this fellowship] will be able to develop similar connections.”

Mary Dunbar recently recalled how funding allowed her husband to travel to conferences and other professional events. “Students need to have those same opportunities to learn and be recognized,” she said, “to establish themselves in the field.” 

The fund germinated from discussions last fall that Armentrout had with Gregory Tochtrop, PhD, and Anna Cristina Samia, Ph.D, both chemistry professors and the former and current chair of the Department of Chemistry, respectively. Samia later reached out to Mary Dunbar as well.

“The department extends our heartfelt appreciation to Professor Peter Armentrout and Mary Dunbar,” Samia said. “Their generous support will not only help alleviate the financial burden of travel expenses, but it will have a lasting impact on graduate students’ educational journeys, giving them the opportunity to present their research, learn from esteemed experts in their field, engage in meaningful academic discussions and expand their network within the scholarly community.” 

To contribute to the Dunbar/ Armentrout Chemistry Travel Fellowship, please contact Development and External Relations at or 216-368-0097.

Page last modified: January 16, 2024