If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Celebrating Two Anniversaries: The Priestley Medal And C&EN

by Rudy Baum,
April 7, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 14

Eighty-fifth anniversaries aren't exactly notable ones. They don't have a name derived from Latin or a precious metal or gemstone associated with them. The only attribute that distinguishes 85th anniversaries from 83rd, 84th, or 86th anniversaries is that they are divisible by the number five.

Still, humans are suckers for anniversaries that are divisible by the numbers five or 10. Heck, humans are suckers for anniversaries of any kind. So why not celebrate the 85th anniversaries of two things near and dear to the heart of the American Chemical Society, the Priestley Medal, the society's highest award, and Chemical & Engineering News, the official organ of the society?

This issue does just that. This week's cover story celebrates University of California, Berkeley, chemistry professor Gabor Somorjai, the winner of the 2008 Priestley Medal.

A profile of Somorjai by C&EN Senior Editor Mitch Jacoby begins on page 15. Somorjai's Priestley Medal address, which he will deliver to the ACS Awards Banquet at the national meeting in New Orleans this week, begins on page 21. I know you will find the profile and the address compelling reading. Somorjai is one of the world's leading surface scientists, and he discusses aspects of his scientific accomplishments in his address.

In addition to focusing on his career as a chemist, Jacoby's profile relates facets of Somorjai's personal story, including his early education in Hungary, the trauma of World War II for a Jewish family in Budapest, and his immigration to the U.S. in 1956 in the wake of the Hungarian Revolution.

Somorjai is actually the 72nd recipient of the Priestley Medal. The medal was first awarded to Ira Remsen in 1923. It was awarded once every three years after that until 1944, when it became an annual award.

We celebrate the Priestley Medal itself with a special feature in the ACS News Department beginning on page 55. After an introduction by C&EN Assistant Managing Editor for News & Special Features Linda Raber, an essay by Mary Ellen Bowden, a science historian with the Chemical Heritage Foundation, traces the life of Joseph Priestley, including his contributions to science and philosophy.

After Bowden's essay, we have a list of all the winners of the Priestley Medal accompanied by some wonderful historical photos. I especially like the photo of two Priestley Medalists together, Robert S. Mulliken (1983) and Linus Pauling (1984). The photo appears to have been taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s, when both were at Caltech.

Pauling was the first Priestley Medal winner I profiled for C&EN. Although Pauling was 83 and retired from Stanford University at the time, he still headed the Linus Pauling Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. I was told I had exactly 45 minutes of the great man's time, and I had a long list of questions I wanted to ask him.

After the first 35 minutes, we had touched on perhaps two of them, and I tried to move the conversation along. Pauling was having none of it and continued to talk about just what he wanted to talk about. After 45 minutes, his executive assistant poked her head into Pauling's office, and he waved her off. We wound up speaking for almost two hours.

As C&EN's West Coast bureau head, I wrote seven of the nine profiles published in C&EN between 1984 and 1992, getting to know some of the greatest chemists of our time.

Finally, we wrap up the celebration of the Priestley Medal with reflections on the award by 12 individuals who won it.

As to C&EN's 85th anniversary, let's just leave it at the fact that very few magazines last for 85 years. Readers' tastes and needs change. Magazines come and go. I am proud to be associated with a magazine that has successfully evolved to continually serve its readers' tastes and needs, and I pledge to continue to strive to do so.

Thanks for reading.

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

Cover Story


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.