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ACS Award In Chemistry Of Materials

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Ivan Amato
January 14, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 2

Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Mallouk
Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Mallouk

Sponsored by E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.

Thomas E. Mallouk got a C in freshman chemistry at Yale University in 1972, but it didn't hold him back. As materials scientist Geoffrey A. Ozin of the University of Toronto sees it, Mallouk "currently stands among the top rank of inorganic chemists in the world."

By winning this year's award, Mallouk, 53, joins a stellar list of innovators whose collective triumphs have expanded many material and technology categories, including superconductors, quantum dots, conductive polymers, and medical implants.

"What characterizes Tom is his breadth of activities, ranging from photochemistry, to vectorial electron transport, to clever design of nanobjects and nanomaterials," observes Michael D. Ward, a crystal engineer who is in the process of assembling the Molecular Design Institute at New York University, which he also directs. Mallouk "developed the ink-jet approach to making large arrays of catalysts with different compositions," Ward says, and developed an "elegant approach" to map the activity of quaternary alloys-complex families of catalysts and other solids whose members are composed of various proportions of four different elements.

When asked what work he is proudest of, Mallouk points to the overarching theme of his contributions: "In the end, the work we have done of most consequence is learning how to make things," he says. That could characterize the raison d'être of most chemists, but Mallouk was an early adopter and innovator of a mental framework in which the sequence from individual molecules to molecular assemblies to materials is considered in an integrated and seamless way. When he was a student in the 1970s and early '80s, he recalls, "solid-state chemistry and molecular chemistry didn't intersect so much."

Mallouk earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Brown (to which he had transferred from Yale) in 1977 under the tutelage of Aaron Wold, whose fervor for solid-state chemistry, Mallouk says, proved irresistible. "You could grind things up and put them in a furnace and something amazing would come out," he says with his signature enthusiasm. "I could see the power and richness of solid-state chemistry from this." In 1983, he received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. There, he worked on solid-state fluorides and intercalation compounds with doctoral adviser Neil Bartlett, whose "deliberate, rational vision of what you could make" also left a lasting mark on Mallouk's own scientific style.

From graduate school, Mallouk segued into a postdoc position at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then an eight-year stint at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1993, he landed a professorship in Pennsylvania State University's department of chemistry, where he now is DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry & Physics. To date he has about 280 publications to his name, including, he says, "a few good ones." In the mix are eight issued patents, including one for a pollution remediation technology based on nanoscale, soil-penetrating iron particles that detoxify pollutants including persistent chlorinated hydrocarbons and dangerous metals such as chromium(IV). Mallouk cofounded the Robbinsville, N.J.-based company Princeton Nanotech to commercialize NanoFe, the groundwater treatment process based on the technology.

He may have looked like a C student in chemistry at first, but, claims Mallouk, "I am getting better at it."

The award address will be presented before the Division of Inorganic Chemistry.


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