Issue Date: June 15, 2009
Not Just Any Marge, Dick, And Harry
Three chemists I've known for many years and consider close professional friends have recently received major honors for their contributions to chemistry and the chemistry enterprise. I can't think of three more deserving recipients.
As detailed in the lead News of the Week story on page 5, Richard N. Zare, the Marguerite Blake Professor in Natural Science and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor at Stanford University, will receive the 2010 Priestley Medal, ACS's highest award, for his distinguished service to chemistry.
Another NOTW, on page 9, announces that Margaret A. (Marge) Cavanaugh, deputy assistant director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation, will receive the 2010 Award for Volunteer Service to the American Chemical Society. The Priestley Medal and the volunteer service award were decided by the ACS Board of Directors at its meeting on June 4–6 in Baltimore.
And just three weeks ago, we learned that Harry B. Gray, a chemistry professor at California Institute of Technology, will receive this year's Welch Award in Chemistry, perhaps the highest honor bestowed by a U.S. organization for excellence in chemical research (C&EN, May 25, page 8).
I've known Zare and Gray since I started as a reporter for C&EN in 1981. I was a completely green science reporter, more than a little overawed by the job I had just taken on covering some of the most sophisticated research being done in chemistry at that time anywhere in the world.
Gray and Zare were two of the chemists who introduced me to their respective universities, hosting me for daylong visits during which I met numerous other faculty members and learned about the research they were doing. Over the years, I wrote several stories about the groundbreaking research that has been done in these two chemists' labs.
In addition to being outstanding researchers, Zare and Gray are inspired educators and tireless ambassadors for chemistry. Both have also championed the advancement of women in the chemical sciences.
As an aside, on June 8, I posted a blog on "C&ENtral Science" commenting on the potential implications of the NSF Chemistry Division's recently announced realignment on the structure of academic chemistry departments and the structure of undergraduate education in chemistry.
Two of the paragraphs in the posting read: "Isn't it about time that academic chemistry departments finally decided that the traditional subdisciplines of chemistry have become operationally meaningless in today's research world? And that we are doing students a tremendous disservice by teaching them chemistry within the bounds of those meaningless buckets?
"I've been in this business for 30 years, and thoughtful chemists have been talking to me about this problem throughout my career. It's not like we don't know there's a problem. It's the 800-lb gorilla in the lab that we're determined not to notice, the one that's driving some of the best and brightest students away from careers in chemistry."
Two of the thoughtful chemists I was referring to in that post are Gray and Zare. Zare, in fact, is currently chairing an ACS task force on chemical education reform.
I first met Cavanaugh when she served on the C&EN Advisory Board from 1998 to 2003, and our paths have crossed innumerable times at ACS meetings. (Both Gray and Zare have also served on C&EN's Advisory Board.) Cavanaugh was an enthusiastic and creative member of the advisory board and always had thoughtful observations about issues affecting the magazine. She is one of those people whose boundless energy and enthusiasm keeps organizations like ACS vibrant and moving forward.
I can't think of three more deserving recipients of the awards that will be bestowed later this year and early next year. I'm looking forward to attending all three award presentations and hearing the talks they will give. These are surely not just any Marge, Dick, and Harry.
Thanks for reading.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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