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Happy Birthday PRF! and Happy Anniversary, Too!

August 9, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 32


Sixty years ago, on Oct. 26, 1944, through the execution of an agreement among seven major oil companies and Guaranty Trust Co. of New York, the Petroleum Research Fund was established as a charitable, scientific, and educational trust, with the American Chemical Society named as the qualified recipient of the trust's net income. Ten years later, in 1954, the first PRF grants for fundamental research in the petroleum field were awarded. Over the next 50 years, nearly 15,000 research grants to individual investigators and more than 2,500 special grants or supplements to existing grants were awarded. The total value of ACS PRF grants since 1954 exceeds $420 million.


These twin milestones--the 60th anniversary of the creation of PRF and the 50th anniversary of the first PRF grants--will be celebrated at a special symposium and reception on Aug. 23 during the upcoming ACS national meeting in Philadelphia. The symposium, "The ACS Petroleum Research Fund--50 Years of Support for Fundamental Research," is a presidential event cosponsored by ACS President and former PRF Advisory Board member Charles P. Casey and by the ACS Committee on Science. The symposium will take place from 2 to 5:10 PM at the Marriott Salon A, with a reception following from 5:30 to 7 PM.

Speakers at the symposium will include Dudley R. Herschbach, Harvard University, 1986 Nobel Laureate; John D. Roberts, California Institute of Technology, awarded one of the first PRF grants in 1954 and also a current grant holder; Joan F. Brennecke, Keating-Crawford Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame; Apurba Bhattacharya, Texas A&M University, Kingsville; and Kieron Burke, Rutgers University. Each has a unique story to tell about the impact of ACS PRF on their careers and/or their institutions.

PRF funding has had a profound impact on the careers of many scientists. The grant rolls include 19 Nobel Laureates, many members of the National Academies of Science and of Engineering, and numerous national and international award winners. In addition, ACS PRF grants have acted as seed money to get many significant lines of research started. As part of the anniversary celebration, comments and recollections have been received from more than 200 past grant recipients and collected in a booklet that will be available at the Philadelphia symposium; the text will be posted on the ACS PRF website,

ACS PRF is an endowment, with ACS responsible for managing the assets. The fund's income is completely self-generated, and no ACS money is used for administrative costs or grant payouts. The current value of PRF is about $500 million. Research support is not limited to chemistry, to ACS members, or to institutions in the U.S. The original trust agreement requires ACS to use PRF funds to "support advanced scientific education and fundamental research in the 'petroleum field,' which may include any field of pure science which may afford a basis for subsequent research directly connected with the petroleum field." ACS PRF is the only research-funding agency managed and administered by a scientific society.

ACS PRF has not grown stagnant over the years. The research topics supported by PRF have changed as science has changed. The flexibility written into the original agreement creating PRF has allowed its advisory board to support cutting-edge, innovative research, as long as it is fundamental and could have an impact on future research related to petroleum.

Although traditional grant programs remain the heart of PRF activities, some new pilot programs are being tested. ACS PRF Summer Schools (C&EN, March 17, 2003, page 47), Alternative Energy Postdoctoral Fellowships, and the Undergraduate Faculty Sabbatical matching grant program are beginning their third year. Supplements for Underrepresented Minority Research, a new program of supplements to current ACS PRF grants to support a summer of research by an undergraduate student from an underrepresented minority group, will begin in 2005.

A real strength of PRF is the exceptional service provided by the ACS PRF Advisory Board. These 31 outstanding scientists and engineers are leaders in their fields and freely give their time to read and evaluate the proposals and peer reviews submitted to PRF. The advisory board is responsible for determining whether a topic is appropriate for funding by PRF and then for recommending which of the many excellent proposals best meet the funding criteria and will provide the greatest impact if they are supported. The dedication and hard work of the advisory board ensures that PRF will continue to have a major impact on scientific research as it begins its second half-century of research support.

Detailed histories of PRF have been published previously in C&EN and elsewhere [C&EN, June 18, 2001, page 45; Chemical Heritage, 12, 1 (1995); Charles Remsberg and Hal Higdon, "Ideas for Rent: The UOP Story," Des Plaines, Ill., UOP, 1994].

To learn more about ACS PRF and the various grant programs, visit the ACS PRF website. And please join us in Philadelphia to celebrate the remarkable achievements of this unique enterprise.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ACS Board.



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