ACS Award For Creative Invention | January 14, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 2 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 2 | pp. 45-46 | Awards
Issue Date: January 14, 2008

ACS Award For Creative Invention

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Courtesy of Adam Heller
Credit: Courtesy of Adam Heller

Sponsored by ACS Corporation Associates

Wide-ranging technology developments stemming from a breadth of knowledge are what stand out from the work of Adam Heller, professor emeritus of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin. His ability to integrate different elements into novel and useful applications has garnered him the award for creative invention.

"His inventions have profoundly impacted the quality of public health care, and in fact, it is from this that Heller derives the most satisfaction: producing technological advances that directly improve the daily lives of millions," says Roger T. Bonnecaze, chairman of UT's chemical engineering department. With regard to his achievements, other colleagues call Heller one of the most accomplished engineers in the world.

In the 1970s, Heller and James J. Auborn at GTE Laboratories built the first lithium thionyl chloride battery. Today it is used in neurostimulators to alleviate pain and treat epilepsy and Parkinson's disease, as well as in drug infusion devices for treating cancer, cerebral palsy, and diabetes. The battery design also finds wide use in defense and communications applications.

Heller then developed the first photoelectrochemical cells that convert sunlight into electrical power with efficiencies greater than 10%. He also created the first cells that could just as efficiently convert sunlight into chemical energy stored as hydrogen.

Subsequent work in photocatalysis by Heller and then-UT postdoctoral fellow Yaron Paz led to windows that clean themselves of deposited organic grime under sunlight. Along with an understanding of the photocatalytic oxidation process, he developed, with coworkers Michael V. Pishko and his own son, Ephraim, at E. Heller & Co., the binders needed to retain titanium dioxide catalyst particles on the surfaces.

More recently, Heller established the field of "enzyme wiring," in which conducting hydrogels electrically connect immobilized redox enzymes to electrodes. Through these connections, enzymes catalyze electrochemical reactions and measure the associated current. He put this phenomenon to practical use in designing highly sensitive, miniaturized glucose oxidase-based biosensors, particularly for diabetes management.

At TheraSense, a company he and Ephraim founded in 1996, Heller, with his son and Ben Feldman, created FreeStyle, a glucose-monitoring microcoulometer requiring only 300 nL of blood, the smallest mass-manufactured microfluidic device. Heller also built the research prototypes of FreeStyle Navigator, a miniature, subcutaneously implanted continuous monitor based on enzyme wiring. In 2004, Abbott Laboratories acquired the company for $1.2 billion.

Heller has worked on other enzyme wiring applications, such as oxygen-reducing, glucose-oxidizing, membraneless biofuel cells. These micrometer-sized cells are the smallest ever built, consisting of two wired enzymes coated onto 7-μm-diameter carbon fibers. They are designed to power subcutaneous sensors and devices.

Heller received a master's degree in chemistry and physics in 1957 and a doctorate in chemistry in 1961, both from Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Following postdoctoral work, he joined GTE Laboratories and then moved to AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1975. There he headed the electronic materials research department between 1977 and 1988. He was appointed to the Ernest Cockrell Sr. Chair in Engineering at UT Austin in 1988 and became a UT research professor in 2002.

Heller has won numerous awards and medals, including the ACS Chemistry of Materials Award; both the Spiers and the Faraday Medals of the Royal Society of Chemistry; the Fresenius Gold Medal of the Society of German Chemists; and the Vittorio De Nora Medal of the Electrochemical Society. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a fellow of the Electrochemical Society.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Analytical Chemistry and the Division of Physical Chemistry.

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