Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical & Experimental Chemistry of Liquids | January 7, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 1 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 1 | pp. 26-27 | Awards
Issue Date: January 7, 2008

Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical & Experimental Chemistry of Liquids

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Leigh Photo
Credit: Leigh Photo

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Research & Engineering

Pablo G. Debenedetti's seminal and imaginative contributions in a wide range of topics make him one of the most broadly based researchers currently involved with the study of liquids, according to his colleagues.

He is best-known for his efforts in understanding the properties of metastable liquids, which are liquids under conditions where the stable state is not a liquid. Through theoretical, computational, and experimental work, the chemical engineer has also furthered basic knowledge about glassy states, the mechanisms behind the nucleation of stable phases, and the behavior of water in confined spaces.

"What I find most impressive in Debenedetti's work is the careful use of computer simulations to probe the physical problem under consideration," says Daan Frenkel, a professor of computational chemistry at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Utrecht, both in the Netherlands. "Debenedetti tackles long-standing problems and his results tend to transform the nature of the debate," Frenkel adds.

"Debenedetti has been a superb ambassador for chemical engineers within the physical chemistry community," says Juan J. de Pablo, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "He is a true scholar."

Born in Argentina, Debenedetti, 54, received a B.S. in chemical engineering from Buenos Aires University in 1978. For two years he worked as a process engineer at an electrochemical company in Italy before his intellectual curiosity for basic research inspired him to pursue graduate studies.

He credits his professors for introducing him to thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he completed an M.S. in 1981 and a Ph.D. in 1985, both in chemical engineering. He then joined the faculty at Princeton University, where he is now the Class of 1950 Professor of Engineering & Applied Science, a professor of chemical engineering, and director of graduate studies in the chemical engineering department, which he chaired between 1996 and 2004.

Debenedetti started his research in liquids with work on tensile strength, such as the "stretching" of liquids by negative pressure, and has since also investigated liquids at superheated and supercooled conditions. He has made significant contributions to the theory of amorphous and glassy states. In a quite different direction, he furthered basic understanding of the mechanisms behind nucleation, which include such phenomena as how bubbles first form when water boils and how the crystalline phase develops within liquid water when it freezes. Some of this work has practical applications such as producing biologically active protein powders for therapeutic use, designing self-cleaning (or superhydrophobic) surfaces, and inhibiting gas hydrate formation in natural gas pipelines.

"While Debenedetti's attack has emphasized theory, it has included experiments, in some cases with sufficient application to warrant patents," says chemistry professor C. Austen Angell of Arizona State University, Tempe.

A recipient of numerous awards for teaching and research, Debenedetti is a member of various advisory boards and the National Academy of Engineering.

Debenedetti will present the award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.

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