Issue Date: February 12, 2007
Guillermo C. Bazan
When Guillermo C. Bazan played with lizards during his childhood in Argentina, he noticed that the critters lose their tails. Bazan recalls at age nine turning to his chemistry set to create a glue for reattaching the reptilian appendages. Although the tails never stuck, his first experience with chemistry did.
His family moved to Canada a few years later. Halfway through college at the University of Ottawa, he got a summer job in a chemistry lab and never looked back.
Bazan, 43, is currently director of the Center for Polymers & Organic Solids at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is affiliated with the department of chemistry and the department of biochemistry and materials.
Colleagues praise Bazan's work in two main areas: creative design of catalysts for synthesizing commodity polyolefins and the synthesis and application of organic molecules with delocalized electronic structures, which can turn into materials with exquisite electrooptic properties.
Metabolic pathways inspired Bazan to pursue so-called tandem catalysis. "In chemistry, we have not achieved similar coordination. We do one thing, we work it up; we take it to the next pot, we work it up, and so on. It's very linear, whereas biology has been able to do that in one vessel—your body," Bazan says. With the help of scientists at Symyx Technologies in California, he was able to show that a trio of nickel catalysts he designed could convert ethylene to branched polyethylenes and that the composition of the catalyst determined the range of structures (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2002, 124, 15280).
"Bazan has a rare combination of skills, creative intellect, and experimental approach needed to take this area of organometallic chemistry to the next level of sophistication in catalyst design and development," says his former postdoctoral adviser John E. Bercaw at California Institute of Technology.
In addition, "Bazan has emerged as an international leader in the area of organic nanostructured materials," says Alan J. Heeger, a collaborator in the physics department at UC Santa Barbara. For example, Bazan's group helped create some of the most efficient single-layer organic light-emitting-diode devices by doping the electroluminescent layer in a conjugated polymer with an organometallic triplet emitter (Adv. Mater. 2002, 14, 581).
Bazan says his group is currently developing catalysts that allow "quasi-living polymerization of ethylene and functionalized monomers" and work with water-soluble conjugated polymers. Potential applications of the conjugated polymers include DNA assays, diagnostic tests for disease-causing viruses such as HIV or influenza, and bioterrorism monitoring tools.
Bazan earned a B.Sc. in chemistry from the University of Ottawa in 1986. Five years later, he completed a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then did a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech. In 1992, he joined the chemistry faculty at the University of Rochester, where he started a water polo team that won a state championship. He became a professor of chemistry at UC Santa Barbara in 1998 and has directed the Center for Polymers & Organic Solids since 2000.
Among his professional awards, Bazan received the Special Creativity Award from the National Science Foundation in 2003 and a Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award in 1996.
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